WASHINGTON – Federal appellate Judge Neil Gorsuch has political momentum as he enters his Supreme Court confirmation hearing Monday.
Gorsuch appears about to fill the seat kept vacant by Senate Republicans during the final 10 months of the Obama administration. Even some Democrats still furious over the GOP power play are forecasting Gorsuch’s success.
Since his Jan. 31 nomination by President Donald Trump, Gorsuch has maneuvered Capitol Hill without any apparent missteps. He’s met with upward of 70 senators and rehearsed disarming answers in private “murder boards.” He’s made public through the Senate Judiciary Committee more than 175,000 pages of his past writings, speeches and related documents.
Conservative advocacy groups have been pumping out pro-Gorsuch ads, including $4.4 million worth of radio, television and digital spots credited to the Judicial Crisis Network. A foundation affiliated with the National Rifle Association has fired off an additional $1 million or so in ads, further outgunning Gorsuch’s liberal opponents.
And in a deft move, Gorsuch showed independence without piercing any White House thin skins when a Democratic senator quoted him as calling Trump’s heated rhetorical assault on his fellow federal judges “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
The outdoorsy 49-year-old graduate of Columbia, Harvard Law School and Oxford University, who esteems the late Justice Antonin Scalia, has, in brief, managed a textbook confirmation rollout while avoiding the chaos that has elsewhere roiled the nascent Trump administration. If confirmed, Gorsuch would fill Scalia’s seat.
He will be confirmed before the April recess, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Politico on March 9. The recess is scheduled to begin April 7.
The Senate’s 52 Republicans appear to be in lockstep behind Gorsuch. To overcome a potential filibuster, as has already been threatened by Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Republicans would have to peel away eight Democrats. That would not be impossible, as some politically vulnerable lawmakers will call for an up-or-down vote even if they ultimately oppose Gorsuch.
Led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the Judiciary Committee’s senior Democrat, skeptical lawmakers will nonetheless do their best to shake Gorsuch, who will be present for opening statements Monday and a full day of direct questioning Tuesday.
Wednesday, once the Gorsuch questions are over, could feature outside witnesses, including those summoned by Democrats to personify the effects of his past decisions. The hearings are expected to end Thursday.
Gorsuch’s opinions are written with accessible clarity. He has authored hundreds since he joined the bench as a President George W. Bush appointee in 2006.
The opinions confirm that Gorsuch is conservative; a point cheered by Tea Party activists who rallied on Capitol Hill Friday.
In one of his most visible decisions, Gorsuch sided in 2013 with the company Hobby Lobby in its effort to avoid, on religious grounds, complying with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance plans to cover contraceptives. The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, later sided with Hobby Lobby as well.