The confirmation hearings for Judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court opened Monday with Democratic and Republican senators vowing open and fair exchanges but making clear that process will not escape the partisan politics that divide Washington.
The first day of hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee opened with Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley expressing his overarching views on the high court before championing Gorsuch, saying judges “play a limited role” in government and are “not free to update the Constitution.”
“That’s not their job. That power is retained by the people, acting through their elected representatives,” the Iowa Republican said before arguing the Obama administration tried rewriting federal laws “dozens of times.”
His remarks were followed by California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, immediately making clear her frustration about the Republican-led Senate refusing to hold hearings last year for her party’s pick — Judge Merrick Garland — to the fill the open Supreme Court seat.
“I just want to say that I’m deeply disappointed that under these circumstances that we begin our hearing,” said Feinstein, who raised questions about Gorsuch’s positons on such issues as abortion and Second Amendment rights.
“For those of us on our side … our job is to determine whether he will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans, not just the powerful and the wealthy,” she continued.
Gorsuch — a respected, highly credentialed judge and conservative member of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — is President Trump’s high court nominee.
If confirmed, the 49-year-old Gorsuch would replace conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016.
The opening statements Monday by the committee members, and soon Gorsuch, will be followed Tuesday by a drawn-out question-and-answer session for the nominee.
Each of the committee’s 17 members will get at least 50 minutes of questions over two rounds.
Grassley said the committee is scheduled to vote April 3 on the Gorsuch nomination, with a full Senate vote expected early next month.
Gorsuch is expected to clear both votes, considering Republicans have the Senate majority.
“No matter your politics … you should be concerned about the preservation of our constitutional order and the separation of powers,” Grassley said. “And if you are concerned about these things, as you should be, meet Judge Neil Gorsuch. We have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles.”
Though Gorsuch’s record has also been praised by some left-leaning legal scholars, several Senate Democrats have already signaled their intentions to oppose his nomination, amid the larger effort to stop Trump at essentially every turn.
But delay tactics by Democrats could lead Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to exercise procedural maneuvers of his own to eliminate the 60-vote filibuster threshold now in place for Supreme Court nominations, and with it any Democratic leverage to influence the next Supreme Court fight.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.