On Jan. 31, Judge Neil Gorsuch started down the road to confirmation when President Donald Trump nominated him to fill the Supreme Court seat left vacant by Antonin Scalia’s death. Today, Gorsuch’s journey to the high court continues as the Senate Judiciary Committee kicks off his confirmation hearings.
The process can be harrowing for a nominee and his family, as senators, the media, and special interests dig into his past, looking for scandals and salacious details that might derail his confirmation. But Gorsuch is an eminently qualified and well-respected judge with a record that demonstrates he will be honest, fair, independent, and impartial.
The American Bar Association (ABA) has given Gorsuch its top rating: well qualified. Although some have expressed concern about the ABA’s liberal bias, Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., have referred to ABA ratings as the “gold standard” for determining the qualifications of judicial nominees. Given Gorsuch’s impeccable credentials, this does not come as a surprise. He is a graduate of Columbia, Harvard, and Oxford. He has served 10 years as a judge on the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, authoring hundreds of opinions; and he has demonstrated unflappable dedication to putting the law before his policy preferences.
Senate’s Duty to Advise and Consent Begins
While the president’s selection of a nominee is the first critical step to receiving a lifetime judicial appointment, the Senate also plays a vital role. The president needs the advice and consent of the Senate for Gorsuch to become a Supreme Court justice.
A few weeks ago, Gorsuch submitted answers to a detailed questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee discussing his employment history, associations and memberships, published writings and speeches, and summaries of significant judicial opinions. His questionnaire has been examined closely and now the real fight begins.
Today, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee start the grueling four-day hearing process by offering their opening statements, followed by an introduction of Gorsuch and his opening remarks. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the committee members will each have the opportunity to question Gorsuch for 30 minutes. They will ask him about his record, judicial philosophy, writings, and other relevant information.
On Thursday, witnesses will present testimony on Gorsuch and relevant aspects of his record and philosophy. Within the next two weeks, the committee is expected to vote to send Gorsuch’s nomination to the full Senate.
Since his nomination, the media have examined Gorsuch’s personal life, work history, and affiliations. Their efforts thus far have failed to uncover any juicy details, and they have been left grasping for straws.
Sadly, this sort of behavior is nothing new for constitutionalist nominees. During the Senate vetting of Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork, journalists dug through his trash and visited his video rental store, looking to expose some hoped-for secret to derail his confirmation.
Even though everyone claims that it is important for a judge to remain independent, senators and special-interest groups will also try to extract assurances that nominees will rule in favor of their pet causes once confirmed. For example, during Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation, NARAL Pro-Choice America urged senators to ask the nominee about her views on the court’s abortion cases before she was confirmed. We can expect liberal groups to do the same over the coming days, demanding commitments to vote their way in cases addressing abortion, business and labor law, and transgender bathrooms.
Full Senate Debate and Vote
Once Gorsuch’s nomination moves to the full Senate, all senators will have the opportunity to debate whether to confirm him. Senators can try to block a nominee’s confirmation by using the filibuster—a procedural maneuver—which can be overcome by a vote of 60 senators.
According to a recent survey, only 41 percent of Democrat congressional staffers believe that senators will attempt to filibuster. A whopping 91 percent of Democrat congressional staffers believe Gorsuch will be confirmed. Once the full Senate votes to confirm the Gorsuch, Trump will sign a commission and Gorsuch will be sworn in as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated that he hopes to confirm Gorsuch by April 10, in time for the Supreme Court’s April sitting, which begins on April 17. This would allow Gorsuch to hear the remaining cases from this term, including an important case addressing religious liberty.