Capitol Correspondence - 03.27.17

Senate Confirmation Hearings Held for Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch

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Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held three days of hearings on President Trump’s nominee to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February 2016. Neil Gorsuch, a solidly conservative judge currently serving on the United States Court of Appeals for Tenth Circuit, has been widely seen as highly qualified, though faces a tough nomination as Democrats are set to oppose any candidate because they believe Republicans unjustly refused confirmation hearings to fill Scalia’s vacant seat for more than a year to block President Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland. 
The confirmation hearings were used just as much by Senators to sling mud at political opponents as to question Gorsuch. Democrats were sharply critical of Republicans’ treatment of Merrick Garland, and Republicans were quick to point out that the election results in 2016 gave Trump’s nominee “super-legitimacy”. Substantive questions directed at Gorsuch included his rulings in an employment case involving a truck driver who was fired for refusing to operate his vehicle under what he deemed were unsafe conditions, and a case involving the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In the latter case, Gorsuch had written for a different case applying the same precedent, precedent which was overturned by the Supreme Court during the confirmation hearing. Gorsuch did not provide specific answers to many questions, saying that he was unable to comment on some, and unwilling to speculate on others. 
As a Supreme Court nominee, Gorsuch’s confirmation could be impacted by a Senate filibuster, which Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) has already said that Senate Democrats intend to do. If the nomination is filibustered, it would require 60 Senate votes to move Gorsuch’s nomination to a vote.