Professor Carolyn Shapiro was a guest panelist on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” on March 22, 2017, to discuss Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s responses to the intense questioning from Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee as the hearings continued into the second day. Michael Scodro, a former Chicago-Kent professor, also appeared on the program.
It was a long day for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. For over eleven hours yesterday, the 10th Circuit judge answered questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee. Each senator had thirty minutes to question Judge Gorsuch (or, as was often the case, to deliver monologues with question marks at the end). The second day of the confirmation hearings concluded after the dinner hour on a rather strange note, with a senator suggesting that Judge Gorsuch stay away from vodka for the night and the nominee saying he was ready to “hit the hay.”
It’s finally here. Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins its confirmation hearing for Judge Neil Gorsuch to become the next associate justice of the Supreme Court.
Judge Gorsuch has been busy during the seven weeks since President Trump nominated him. He has met with 72 senators. He has been studying, going over his own opinions and reviewing major Supreme Court decisions that are likely to be discussed at the hearings. And he has been sharpening his answers by participating in simulated confirmation hearing sessions. (NPR’s Nina Totenberg notes that Robert Bork, who the Senate refused to confirm in 1987, “refused to submit himself to these practice sessions, and paid dearly with a performance that made him sometimes sound arrogant and less than fully candid.” The New York Times just posted a video documentary looking back at the Bork nomination. )
Less than a week away from the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch to be the next associate justice of the Supreme Court and the media machine is ramping up. Journalists are publishing a new round of stories on Gorsuch. Commentators, activists, and politicians are busy attacking and defending the nominee, each side hoping to score a few points before the main event begins on Monday.
In the National Law Journal, Tony Mauro reviewed notes from a 2010 speech Judge Gorsuch submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee, concluding that the nominee offered a distinctly “bleak” portrait of the American legal system. Among Gorsuch’s complaints were the expense and delays of the discovery stage of civil litigation. “Not long ago we used to have trials without discovery,” he noted. “Now we have discovery without trials.” Gorsuch also lamented the increasing “vitriol” of the Supreme Court confirmation process.
Professor Carolyn Shapiro wrote an op-ed for The Hill titled “What Brown can do for Democrats in examining Gorsuch” about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch’s upcoming Senate confirmation hearings. She suggests that Senate Democrats could question Judge Gorsuch about Brown v. Board of Education and other historical cases to get a better sense of his judicial philosophy and his views on judicial independence.
It’s week six of the Gorsuch nomination. His nomination hearings begin on March 20.
The first anniversary of the death of Justice Antonin Scalia (whose seat Gorsuch, if approved, would take) has sparked a new round of comparisons between the two jurists.
Judge Gorsuch, writes Richard Wolf in USA Today, “represent[s] the first generation of Supreme Court justices to have been influenced by Scalia’s rulings, writings, and teachings while still in law school.” Gorsuch’s writing has often been compared to Scalia’s. Mark Sherman of the AP wrote a story on his accessible writing style.
The legal issues involving President Trump’s travel ban executive order are fascinating and complex. But equally significant have been the President’s attacks on the judiciary. It is one thing for a President to say that he disagrees with a ruling, that he has confidence in the constitutionality and legality of his actions, and that he is instructing his attorneys to appeal—but that is not what Trump has done. Instead, he has attacked the district court judge who issued the nationwide temporary restraining order as a “so-called judge,” he has called the Ninth Circuit opinion denying a stay “disgraceful,” and he has urged people to blame the judiciary if “something happens.” These kinds of statements reflect a dangerous attack on the very legitimacy of an independent judiciary.
An independent federal judiciary is an indispensable part of our system of checks and balances. One of the important purposes of checks and balances, as contemplated by the Framers, is to prevent the seizure by factions of Congress and the Executive Branch. Another is to prevent over-reaching by both branches of government.
At this point the Trump administration is not likely, for political reasons, to be checked by either House of Congress, so it is the federal judiciary that will have to do much of the heavy lifting. For that reason, we all should vehemently protest the President’s recent ad hominem attacks on two federal judges: the federal judge presiding over the Trump University case and the federal judge in Seattle who recently issued a temporary restraining order against much of the President’s executive immigration order. Though the Supreme Court is our last resort, the entire federal judiciary is our first line of defense and must be protected at all costs.
Professor Carolyn Shapiro was quoted in a January 30, 2017, Slate article about what happens if federal employees or officials from the executive branch ignore a federal court order.