This week, Judge Neil Gorsuch testifies at his confirmation hearings to be Supreme Court justice, filling the vacancy left over a year ago by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The hearings begin Monday are expected to continue for several days. Day One will feature 10-minute opening statements by the members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as by Gorsuch. On Day Two, the questioning begins.
Gorsuch, 49, is a former Washington, D.C. lawyer and Supreme Court clerk educated at Harvard and Oxford who is considered a solid conservative. He has been a Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judge since 2006.
Early in his law career, a 26-year-old Gorsuch clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who still sits on the Court. If Gorsuch is confirmed, it would mark the first time a justice and his or her former clerk would be seated on the Court at the same time.
Gorsuch was also in the same Harvard class as former President Obama. Though Mr. Obama hasn’t weighed in on Gorsuch, Norm Eisen, Mr. Obama’s ethics czar, praised the choice, as did former Obama acting solicitor general Neal Katyal.
Gorsuch sailed through his Senate confirmation to be a federal judge in 2006 on a voice vote, and was introduced by both the Republican (then-Sen. Wayne Allard) and Democratic (then-Sen. Ken Salazar) senators from his home state of Colorado. There were no dissenting votes. For his Supreme Court nomination, he will again be given a bipartisan home-state senator introduction -- this time by Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, though Bennet hasn’t disclosed whether he plans to vote for him. Katyal is also slated to introduce Gorsuch.
Gorsuch has spent much of his time since his nomination meeting the senators who will be voting on his confirmation -- he’s met 72. Twenty senators sit on the Judiciary Committee, and will be questioning him.
While the Colorado judge is conservative, he also has a sterling reputation. The White House believed he was unlikely to elicit a massive Senate Democratic uprising. This week, that belief will be put to the test. Democrats must decide whether this is the time to oppose a qualified conservative nominee. As a conservative replacing Scalia, Gorsuch wouldn’t change the balance of the court. If enough Democrats oppose him, it would force Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to invoke the “nuclear option” to get Gorsuch confirmed with a simple majority.
Gorsuch sided with Hobby Lobby in the Obamacare contraception case and wrote a book about assisted suicide that indicated his pro-life views. Before joining the bench, Gorsuch took few if any controversial positions as a D.C. lawyer in private practice or during his brief stint in the civil division of the Justice Department under former President George W. Bush.
As a judge, Gorsuch has said he follows the conservative philosophy embodied by Scalia during Scalia’s nearly two decades on the nation’s top court, one that depends on strict constructionism -- a firm reliance on the text of the Constitution for judicial interpretation.
“It seems to me than assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to being a good judge,” Gorsuch told students during a 2016 speech at Case Western University. “Mark me down, too, as a believer that this traditional account of the judicial role that Justice Scalia defended will endure and the predictions of its imminent demise are much exaggerated.”
Yet while echoing an assurance most judicial nominees deliver to lawmakers, Gorsuch told senators during his confirmation hearing in 2006 that he resists philosophical “pigeon-holing.”
“People do unexpected things and pigeon holes ignore gray areas in the law,” Gorsuch told South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the only senator to question him in person. “My personal views, as I hope I have made clear, have nothing to do with the case before me in any case.”
Indeed, Gorsuch has publicly criticized the widely held notion that judges often demonstrate political partisanship in their judicial decisions.
During a 2013 speech at an event organized by The Federalist Society -- a conservative legal group -- Gorsuch said, “If I believed that judges and lawyers regularly acted as shills and hacks, I’d hang up the robe. I’d turn in my license.”
“No doubt, we have to look hard in the mirror when our profession’s reflected image in popular culture is no longer Atticus Finch, but Saul Goodman,” he concluded.
CBS News’ Jan Crawford and Adam Aigner-Treworgy contributed to this story
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