Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in his opening remarks at Monday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing argued that President Trump’s nominee Neil Gorsuch had a “super legitimacy” because he was nominated after a presidential election. He failed to mention, however, that Trump was only allowed to name Gorsuch because the GOP blockade of President Obama’s nominee, whom Republicans blocked from even receiving a hearing.
“Given that history, given the engagement of the electorate nationally on this central issue, I would suggest that Judge Gorsuch is no ordinary nominee. Because of this unique and transparent process, unprecedented in the nation’s history, his nomination carries with it a super legitimacy that is also unprecedented in our nation’s history,” Cruz said. “The American people played a very direct role in helping choose this nominee.”
Cruz did not mention Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland by name, but Democrats have name-checked him multiple times throughout their opening remarks Monday.
“It was almost a year ago today that president Obama nominated chief judge Merrick Garland for this seat,” the Judiciary Committee’s top Dem, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said. “Unfortunately, due to unprecedented treatment, Judge Garland was denied a hearing, and this vacancy has been in place for well over a year. I just want to say I am deeply disappointed that it under these circumstances that we begin our hearings.”
Update 3:29 p.m.: After a series of opening remarks from Democrats who highlighted specific decisions of Gorsuch’s they questioned, the judge in his opening remarks Monday defended his approach to the law as one divorced from his political or policy preferences.
“My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law, and the facts, the issue in each particular case,” Gorsuch said. “A good judge can promise no more than that and a good judge should guarantee no less. For a judge who likes every outcome he reaches is probably a pretty bad judge, stretching for policy results he prefers rather than those the law compels.”
Update 3:07 p.m.: Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) — who, alongside Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO), introduced Gorsuch, as is custom — slammed Republicans for their blockade of Garland but argued that Gorsuch should still be considered because “two wrongs never make a right.”
“The Senate’s failure to do its duty in respect to Judge Garland was an embarrassment to this body that will be recorded in history and in the lives of millions of Americans,” Bennet said. “It is tempting to deny Judge Gorsuch a fair hearing because of the senate’s prior failure. But Mr. Chairman, two wrongs never make a right.”
Bennet also noted that even though he is introducing Gorsuch, who is from Colorado, he has not made up his mind on whether to vote in favor of his confirmation.
“I’m not here today to take a position or persuade any of our colleagues how to vote,” Bennet said. “That is a matter of conscience for each of us. I am keeping an open mind about this nomination and expect this week’s hearings will shed light on Judge Gorsuch’s judicial approach and views of the law. “
Update 2:14 p.m.: Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) called upon Gorsuch to publicly defend the judiciary from the attacks that President Trump has launched upon it, with personal smears against judges, before and since the election. Gorsuch privately told Democratic senators in their meetings that he found Trump’s attacks disheartening, according to the senators, but has stopped short of weighing on the smears publicly.
“It isn’t enough to do it in the privacy of my office or my colleagues’ behind closed doors. I believe that our system really requires and demands that you do it publicly and explicitly and directly,” Blumenthal said.
Update 12:55 p.m.: While defending Republicans’ move last year to block Garland, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) got laughs when he reminded the committee of his many criticisms of Trump during the campaign.
“If you believe this has been a great plan to get a Trump nominee on the court, then you had to believe Trump was going to win to begin with. I didn’t believe that. Obviously, I didn’t believe that, saying all the things I said,” Graham said. “But apparently, what I said didn’t matter and that’s okay with me. The American people chose Donald Trump, and here’s what I can say about the man in front of us.”
Graham later said he thought “long and hard about” about the decision to block Garland, but added that he believed Democrats would have done the same thing if the situation was reversed.
His opening remarks also included the day’s first reference to the musical “Hamilton.”
Update 12:28 p.m.: Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) used the words of one of President Trump’s aides to raise questions about Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
“It is incumbent on any nominee to demonstrate that he or she will serve as an independent check or balance on the presidency,” said Durbin who pointed to remarks last month by White House chief of staff Reince Preibus that ‘Neil Gorsuch represents the type of judge that has the vision of Donald Trump.'”
Durbin called Priebus’ remark a “red flag.”
“I want to hear from you why Mr. Preibus would say that. Make no mistake, when it comes to the treatment of workers, women, victims of discrimination, people of minorities and religious faith, and our constitution, most Americans question whether we need a supreme court justice with the vision of Donald Trump.”
Update 11:56 a.m.: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who supported Republicans’ unprecedented blockade of President Obama’s SCOTUS nomination, decried the politicization of the Supreme Court confirmation process in his opening remarks.
“Advocates of such a politicized judiciary seem to think that the confirmation process requires only a political agenda and a calculator,” Hatch said. “When a nominee is a sitting judge, they tally the winners and losers in his past cases and do the math. If they like the result, it’s thumbs-up on on confirmation. If they don’t, well, it’s thumbs down.”
Hatch on multiple occasions praised Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee, before he was named and called him a “a fine man” a week before he was announced. Hatch nevertheless favored Garland receiving no confirmation hearings because he was nominated to fill a seat that was vacated within a year of a presidential election.
Update 11:40 a.m.: Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the Democrats’ new ranking member on the committee, wasted no time bringing up that Gorsuch was being nominated for a seat that President Obama would have filled, had it not been for Republicans’ blockade of the judge, Merrick Garland, he nominated.
“It was almost a year ago today that president Obama nominated chief judge Merrick Garland for this seat,” Feinstein said. “Unfortunately, due to unprecedented treatment, Judge Garland was denied a hearing, and this vacancy has been in place for well over a year. I just want to say I am deeply disappointed that it under these circumstances that we begin our hearings.”
Her opening remarks then touched on Gorsuch’s previous legal opinions and approach, particularly focusing on how he views the role of the courts in reviewing government regulations, a doctrine enshrined in the Chevron case.
“This legal doctrine has been fundamental to how our government addresses real-world challenges in our country, and has been in place for decades. If overturned, as Judge Gorsuch has advocated, legislating rules are very difficult,” she said
She also raised questions about Gorsuch’s views on abortion rights and gun rights.
Update 11:33 a.m.: Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) stressed judicial independence in his opening remarks, which he delivered after welcoming Judge Gorsuch and laying out the agenda for the multi-day hearing process.
“No matter your politics, for all of these reasons you should be concerned about the preservation of our constitutional order and the separation of powers,” Grassley said, according to his prepared remarks. “And if you are concerned about these things, as you should be: meet Judge Neil Gorsuch.”
Republicans have been stressing that they believe Gorsuch would act as a check on the presidency, and Gorsuch’s remarks in private meetings with Democratic senators in which he decried Trump’s public attacks on the judiciary made headlines. Democrats nonetheless were skeptical of Gorsuch’s private comments and of his independence from Trump.
The Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off its Supreme Court confirmation hearings for appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch Monday, with Gorsuch himself testifying in front of the panel, after introductions from Sens. Cory Gardner (R-CO) and Michael Bennet (D-CO), as well as Neal K. Katyal, a former acting solicitor general under President Obama.
President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia, who died well over a year ago.
Democrats — who saw Obama’s nominee for the vacancy, Judge Merrick Garland, subjected to an unprecedented blockade by GOP lawmakers last year — will zero in on Gorsuch’s ability to serve as an independent check on Trump. Republicans have been enthusiastic about Trump’s selection of Gorsuch, a nomination that has been one of the few moves of his presidency thus far that as completely united the party.
Gorsuch is a member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and is known for having an approach to the law similar to that of Scalia’s. Outside conservative groups have been prepared to spend millions supporting his nomination, while the left has been somewhat distracted in its protests to his confirmation due to the Obamacare fight on Capitol Hill and Trump scandal-a-minute style of governance.
The confirmation hearing begins at 11 a.m. Watch it live, courtesy of NBC News, below: