Neil Gorsuch, chosen by President Trump to succeed Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee Monday for a three-day confirmation hearing.
Democrats, still seething over the refusal by Republican leaders to even consider a vote for President Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland to fill the Scalia seat, have pledged to oppose Gorsuch on principle. But the Republicans, with a majority in the Senate, say they have the votes to confirm him.
Majority leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has vowed that the Senate will vote on the Gorsuch nomination before leaving April 8 for its Easter recess. If confirmed, Gorsuch would take the bench in time to hear the last two weeks of courtroom argument left in the current Supreme Court term.
He would not be able to take part in deciding any cases argued before he arrived at the court.
“It would be shocking if Neil Gorsuch wasn’t confirmed to the Supreme Court in the coming weeks,” said Tom Goldstein, a Washington DC lawyer who argues before the court and publishes the ScotusBlog website.
“The Democrats are committed to opposing him. Their base is insisting on it, because of what happened to President Obama’s nominee. But the reality is, they just don’t have the votes and don’t have the goods.”
Gorsuch, 49, is a native of Denver and a federal judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals based there which hears cases from six western states. He was nominated eight years ago by former President George W. Bush and handily confirmed in the Senate.
He would be the first Supreme Court justice from the Rocky Mountain west in 24 years and the first Protestant on the current court.
Gorsuch has not written any rulings on highly controversial subjects like abortion or same-sex marriage. But he sided with the owners of the Hobby Lobby stores, who said Obamacare’s contraceptive requirement violated their religious freedom. The Supreme Court agreed.
A study by three Supreme Court scholars concluded that Gorsuch would be further to the right on the court than Justice Scalia was.
But Leonard Leo of the conservative Federalist society, who advised President Trump on the nomination, calls Gorsuch fair-minded and impartial, “in the sense that he grounds his judicial decision-making in the text and original meaning of the Constitution and the laws.”
Democrats have sounded a consistent theme since the nomination, focusing on decisions Gorsuch has written or joined that they say benefit businesses at the expense of individuals.
“Neil Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge. But his record and his career show he harbors a right-wing, pro-corporate, special-interest agenda,” said Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
In Scalia’s absence the current Supreme Court term has been less than momentous. What would have been the most prominent case, involving transgender rights, was struck from the docket when the Trump administration changed a policy at issue in the dispute.
If Gorsuch is confirmed by mid-April, he will join in hearing an important freedom of religion case. The court will decide whether Missouri discriminates against religion by leaving a church-run preschool out of a program to fund playground improvements. The state argues that a law forbids spending public money to aid a church.
Replacing the conservative Scalia with Gorsuch will not change the overall makeup of the court. His confirmation would not lead to rolling back the Roe v Wade abortion ruling, for example.
But Donald Trump would reshape the Supreme Court if one of the court’s older justices steps down in the next few years.
Ruth Bader Ginsburg turned 84 on March 15. Anthony Kennedy is 80 and Stephen Breyer is 78. A retirement by any of them, and a replacement by a Trump nominee, would create a seismic shift in the court’s balance of power
“I am feeling just fine,” Ginsburg told a Washington, DC audience in February, explaining that she works out twice a week with a personal trainer.
Opposition by Democrats could prevent Neil Gorsuch from reaching a filibuster-proof 60 votes. That may prompt Republicans to push for a rule change, allowing Supreme Court nominees to be confirmed by a simple majority.
“He will be confirmed,” McConnell has insisted.