Hearings on the nomination of federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court got underway on Monday, with Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee offering unsurprisingly mixed views on President Donald Trump's nominee.
Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, opened the hearing with a statement expressing concerns about executive overreach and the threat it poses to the separation of powers.
"The separation of powers is just as critical today as it was during the last Administration," Grassley said. "And the preservation of our constitutional order—including the separation of powers—is just as crucial to our liberty today as it was when our founding charter was adopted."
"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," he added. "And if you are concerned about these things, as you should be: meet Judge Neil Gorsuch."
Grassley argued that Gorsuch's body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to the principles of constitutional order and the separation of powers.
Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, highlighted the American Bar Association's unanimous well qualified rating for Gorsuch, noting that Democrats have previously referred to the ABA's rating as the gold standard for evaluating judicial nominees.
"The ABA's unanimous well qualified rating for Judge Gorsuch confirms that he has the highest level of professional qualifications including integrity, competence, and temperament," Hatch said.
Hatch also warned of politicizing the judiciary and allowing the confirmation process for a Supreme Court Justice to resemble a political campaign.
Meanwhile, Democrats on the committee raised concerns about Gorsuch's originalist philosophy as well as his views on the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 in favor of abortion rights.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the committee, questioned whether Gorsuch will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans and not just the wealthy and powerful.
"President Trump repeatedly promised to appoint someone 'in the mold of Justice Scalia' and said that the nomination of Judge Gorsuch illustrates he's 'a man of his word," Feinstein said.
"For those of us on this side, our job today is not to theoretically evaluate this or that legal doctrine or to review Judge Gorsuch's record in a vacuum," she added. "Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable, mainstream conservative or is he not."
Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., also claimed that Gorsuch was selected by special interest groups rather than by the president in consultation with the Senate.
"Republicans made a big show last year about respecting the voice of the American people in this process," Leahy said. "Now they are arguing that the Senate should rubber stamp a nominee selected by extreme interest groups, and nominated by a President who lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes."
Democrats continued to criticize the GOP for refusing to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of appeals court judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February of last year.
Trump's nomination of Gorsuch will need support from some Democrats to reach the 60-vote threshold to break a filibuster.
However, Republican leaders have suggested they may invoke the so-called "nuclear option" to require only a majority vote in support of the nomination.
The questioning of Gorsuch will begin on Tuesday, March 21st, with testimony by outside legal experts as well as the American Bar Association expected to follow.
Grassley has set a committee vote on Gorsuch's nomination for April 3rd, with Republicans hoping for a vote in the full Senate before the Easter recess.
by RTT Staff Writer
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