Democrats Break Out Political Playbook Against Gorsuch in Hearing

Utah senator Mike Lee had a wish for Neil Gorsuch: “You are not a politician, which means that the acrimony, duplicity, and ruthlessness of today’s politics are still foreign and unfamiliar to you. May that continue to be true.”

You can’t always get what you want.

The Supreme Court nominee walked into a fray of flying elbows Monday, as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee provided opening statements on day one of his confirmation hearings. The panel’s Democrats took a uniformly political tack. Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein partly reduced her colleagues’ job to “[determining] whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable, mainstream conservative, or is he not.” Senate minority whip and committee member Dick Durbin said Gorsuch was part of “a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch.” And Hawaii’s Mazie Hirono dispensed with senatorial etiquette to say “this hearing is about the people in this country who are getting screwed,” down to “every single second, minute, and hour of the day.”

For Gorsuch, it was four hours, eight minutes, and three seconds of remarks on Capitol Hill, roughly half of which belonged to the minority and a few minutes to him. He heard multiple reminders of the failed appointment of Judge Merrick Garland to the high bench, and the retreating shadow it cast over his own selection.

“Despite all of this” recent history, Durbin told the Colorado jurist, “you are entitled to be judged on the merits.” In doing so, Democrats scrutinized Gorsuch’s past writings on executive power, and raised staple judicial issues like Roe v. Wade, his lower-court opinion in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius for its application to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, and campaign finance. In one criticism, Senator Amy Klobuchar cited survey data, tying public opinion to the job that awaits him. “In recent polls, over three quarters of Americans have said that we need sweeping new laws to reduce the influence of money in politics. While polls, as we know, aren’t a judge’s problem, democracy should be,” the Minnesota Democrat said.

Such a comment was part of the opposition’s telegraphed plans to pin Gorsuch as a friend of the powerful and foe of the little guy. Said Rhode Island’s Sheldon Whitehouse, “The question that faces me is what happens when the Republicans get five appointees on the Supreme Court. I can’t help but notice the long array of 5-4 decisions with all the Republican appointees lining up to change the law to the benefit of distinct interests, Republicans at the polls, and big business pretty much everywhere.”

Gorsuch tried to deflect focus from such partisan characterizations of the High Court. “The first case I wrote as a judge to reach the Supreme Court divided 5 to 4. The Court affirmed my judgment with the support of Justices Thomas and Sotomayor—while Justices Stevens and Scalia dissented. Now, that’s a lineup some might think unusual. But actually, it’s exactly the sort of thing that happens—quietly, day in and day out—in the Supreme Court and in courts across our country,” he stated in his testimony. He thanked those he called his “friends”: “Liberals and conservatives and independents, from every kind of background and belief,” some of whom he said wrote the judiciary panel on his behalf. One Democratic asset vouched for him in-person: Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, who formally introduced Gorsuch to the committee on Monday. Katyal previously wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in favor of Gorsuch’s nomination.

The mutual bipartisan appreciation has boosted the appellate judge’s prospects for a relatively smooth confirmation. He has been favorably reviewed by multiple Senate Democrats, including Feinstein herself, her more pointed remarks on Monday notwithstanding. He’ll still doubtlessly face some challenges when the panel reconvenes Tuesday morning for questions, the main event of the hearing process. But Gorsuch sailed through the undercard.

This post originally appeared on Weekly Standard

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