Confirmation hearings begin for Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Judge Neil M. Gorsuch gave his opening statement on Monday during the first day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Here are some highlights:
■ Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said he wanted to know what Judge Gorsuch would do when “called upon to stand up to this president.” Mr. Durbin said, “You going to have your hands full with this president.”
■ Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, introduced Mr. Gorsuch, his fellow Coloradan, with high praise but stayed studiously ambiguous about how he would vote.
■ Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, said, “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.”
■ Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said Mr. Gorsuch was “selected by interest groups.”
■ Two of the most frequently mentioned people at Monday’s hearing weren’t even in the room: Judge Merrick B. Garland, the Obama administration nominee who never got a hearing, and Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader who led the blockade of Judge Garland.
■ Republicans are enthusiastic and fully aboard with Judge Gorsuch. Do not expect contentious questioning from them in the days ahead.
■ The hearings reconvene on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m., and will last at least 10 hours.
Gorsuch said role was ‘not about politics.’
On the opening day of his confirmation hearings, Judge Gorsuch promised that if he were elevated to the Supreme Court, he would strive for independence and integrity.
“I will do all in my power,” he said, “to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation.”
In what may have been an oblique reference to President Trump’s attacks on judges who have ruled against him, Judge Gorsuch thanked “my fellow judges across the country.”
His polished opening statement came after hours of remarks from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that confirmed a stark partisan divide on his nomination.
Republican senators portrayed Judge Gorsusch as a highly qualified and independent jurist. Democrats said they were troubled by a judicial record they said was animated by a cold and literal reading of the law and skewed toward business interests.
Judge Gorsuch said he tried to follow the example of Justice Byron R. White, for whom he served as law clerk “He modeled for me judicial courage,” Judge Gorsuch said of his mentor. “He followed the law wherever it took him.”
Pledging to dispense equal justice to “poor and rich,” Judge Gorsuch said the judicial role was “not about politics.”
Rather, he said, a judge’s plain black robes reflect a different role, representing independence. “The robe does mean something to me,” he said, “and not just that I can hide the coffee stains on my shirt.”
Democrats focus on one that got away.
Three Democratic senators, three opening statements that began with a focus on the judge who never made it to this room: Judge Garland.
Democrats were always expected to highlight Republicans’ refusal to even meet with President Barack Obama’s nominee last year. But the frequency and ferocity of their attacks were notable out of the gate.
Amid the complaints about last year’s process, Democrats on Monday described themselves as taking the high road now. Meeting with Judge Gorsuch and participating in the hearing, Senator Durbin said, represented “a courtesy which Senate Republicans denied to Judge Garland.”
Obama’s solicitor general calls Gorsuch ‘first-rate intellect.’
Gorsuch was introduced by the two senators from his home state, Colorado. The third introduction, though, came from a less typical source: Neal K. Katyal, a well-known liberal lawyer who served as acting solicitor general in the Obama administration.
“This is a first-rate intellect and a fair and decent man,” Mr. Katyal said of Judge Gorsuch.
Mr. Katyal, who represents Hawaii in its challenge to President Trump’s travel ban and argues frequently before the Supreme Court, was an early supporter of Judge Gorsuch. More than 30 members of the Supreme Court bar signed a letter endorsing Judge Gorsuch last month, calling him “fair-“This is a first-rate intellect and a fair and decent man,” Mr. Katyal said of Judge Gorsuch.
Mr. Katyal, who represents Hawaii in its challenge to President Trump’s travel ban and argues frequently before the Supreme Court, was an early supporter of Judge Gorsuch. More than 30 members of the Supreme Court bar signed a letter endorsing Judge Gorsuch last month, calling him “fair-minded, dedicated, smart and unfailingly polite.”
Cruz says Gorsuch has ‘super-legitmacy.’
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, used his remarks to defend his party’s decision to hold open the vacancy caused by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, arguing that allowing President Obama to fill the seat would have endangered Scalia’s legacy.
Mr. Cruz said the fact that the dispute over the vacancy figured into the presidential election result conferred a “super-legitimacy” on Judge Gorsuch because voters had their say — an unusual idea that would no doubt be strongly disputed by Democrats.
Before the election, Mr. Cruz had been among those Republicans suggesting that they should hold the seat open indefinitely if Hillary Clinton won the election.
Senator attacks partisan court.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island, issued a blistering attack on the United States Supreme Court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., listing more than a dozen decisions in which the court had voted 5 to 4 to limit voting rights, increase the role of money in politics and favor business interests. In each, he said, the five Republican appointees were in the majority.
If Judge Gorsuch fills the seat left vacant by Justice Scalia’s death last year, he will return the court to a familiar dynamic, with a five-member majority of conservative justices, all appointed by Republican presidents, and a four-member bloc of liberal justices, all appointed by Democratic presidents.
Gorsuch role in war on terror is questioned.
Mr. Durbin also brought up the recent revelation that Judge Gorsuch, as a Justice Department official in December 2005, was involved in internal Bush administration deliberations over a signing statement that President George W. Bush issued when he signed a law tightening restrictions against torture.
Signing statements are official written pronouncements by the president when a bill is signed into law.
The signing statement attracted controversy because Mr. Bush asserted that he had the constitutional power, as commander-in-chief, to disregard the new torture ban. Mr. Bush had threatened to veto the bill, but Congress had passed it so overwhelmingly that lawmakers had the votes to override a veto. So instead, Mr. Bush used a signing statement to undermine it.
“Turns out you were deeply involved in this unprecedented signing statement,” Mr. Durbin said. “We need to know what you will do when you are called upon to stand up to this president.”
Still, internal Justice Department emails made public late on Friday showed that Judge Gorsuch did not write the line in the final signing statement that essentially claimed that Congress cannot limit what interrogation techniques a president chooses to use in wartime. Instead, David S. Addington, the counsel to then-Vice President Dick Cheney, drafted that line.
Instead, the documents show, Judge Gorsuch had been pushing for different language that would have essentially claimed that the new torture ban merely codified existing practices and would not require any change.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, spoke at the hearing. At left, Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the committee chairman, and at right, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont.
Senator Michael Bennet, Democrat of Colorado, does not have to vote for Mr. Gorsuch just because he will be introducing him at the confirmation hearing. But his presence at the hearing underscores the difficult position Mr. Bennet is in.
Because of Democrats’ anger over the treatment of Judge Garland’s nomination by Republicans, he is caught in a pincher between pressure to support his fellow Coloradan and his party loyalties.
Democratic senators are facing pressure to mount a filibuster that would force Republicans to change the chamber’s rules in order to confirm Judge Gorsuch. To overcome a filibuster without changing the rules, Republicans need to persuade at least eight Democrats to break ranks with their party — and interest groups on both sides are pushing Senator Bennet. A vote for the nominee could play well with more centrist voters back home, but draw the ire of progressives there and across the country. And Mr. Bennet is seen as someone who could have a future as a national Democratic figure.
Gorsuch makes second first impression.
In recent weeks, Mr. Trump’s cabinet nominees have not always seemed entirely prepared for their congressional hearings. That’s unlikely to be the case with Judge Gorsuch.
Appraised even by skeptics as gifted and poised, Judge Gorsuch has been in deep preparations for weeks, including meetings with 72 senators, by his team’s count. The centerpiece of Monday’s proceedings will be his opening statement before the Judiciary Committee, his first meaningful public remarks since the evening of his nomination.
That initial speech, delivered from the White House beside Mr. Trump, may offer some clues to his strategy. It included soaring paeans to the judiciary — talk of the need for “impartiality and independence, collegiality and courage” — as well as choice bits of biography and humor.
Will Democrats resist resistance?
By nominating a plainly qualified judge, Mr. Trump has forced Democrats to reckon with the kind of obstructionism they long condemned from Republicans. While several members have already said they would vote against Judge Gorsuch, the prospect of an institution-rattling fight has concerned some more moderate Democrats, particularly those who face re-election in states that Mr. Trump won.
If Judge Gorsuch cannot meet the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome a filibuster, Republicans could change longstanding rules and elevate him on a simple majority vote.
In the hearings, if recent history is a guide, some of the sharpest questioning might come from Senator Al Franken, Democrat of Minnesota, whose approach at the cabinet hearings produced several memorable moments. (These included coaxing Jeff Sessions, now the attorney general, to say he had not had “communications with the Russians” during the presidential campaign, despite Mr. Sessions’s since-divulged contacts with the Russian ambassador.)
So far, objections to Judge Gorsuch — which have gotten little traction to date — have generally come in two forms from Democrats: His record suggests a bias toward corporate interests, they argue, and …
Leahy charges ‘special interests’ selected Gorsuch.
Opening a new line of attack, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, said Mr. Gorsuch was “selected by interest groups.” It is true that the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group, played a leading role in drawing up Mr. Trump’s lists of potential nominees and in narrowing the list to a single finalist.
In his Senate questionnaire, Judge Gorsuch was asked to describe who had first contacted him from the White House about the possibility that he would be elevated to the Supreme Court.
“I was contacted by Leonard Leo,” he said, referring to an exceptionally influential executive vice president of the Federalist Society.