The Gorsuch Report—Confirmation Hearings Day 1

By Professor Christopher Schmidt

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. )

Judge Gorsuch is not the only one who has been busily preparing for today. The Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, plans to spend $10 million in support of Gorsuch. They are targeting ads at 10 states that voted for Trump and have Democratic senators who will face re-election contests next year. Other conservatives groups are also pushing the Gorsuch cause. On the other side, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and liberal groups are busy attacking the nominee. They have focused primarily on drawing attention to rulings in which Judge Gorsuch demonstrated what Schumer described as a “right-wing, pro-corporate, special interest agenda.”

Judge Gorsuch has lamented the turn of confirmation hearings into “an ideological food fight.” In an article he wrote in 2002, while still in private practice, Gorsuch looked back wistfully at the nomination process of Justice Byron White, for whom he clerked in 1991-1992. White’s hearings in 1962 were held just two weeks after President Kennedy nominated him, and they lasted only 90 minutes. “The judicial confirmation process today bears no resemblance to 1962,” Gorsuch wrote. “Today, there are too many who are concerned less with promoting the best public servants and more with enforcing litmus tests and locating unknown ‘stealth candidates’ who are perceived as likely to advance favored political causes once on the bench.”

As Adam Liptak of the New York Times explains, Gorsuch joins a long list of Supreme Court nominees who publicly criticized the confirmation hearings. Predictably, each backtracked once their time in the limelight arrived. Once on the bench, however, in speeches and interviews, justices often return to their critical posture and regularly lament the partisanship of the confirmation process.

So what to expect today? The New York Times offers a preview of things to look for. And everyone has suggestions about what kinds of questions the senators should be asking. Here are some ideas from USA Today, Jeff Greenfield, and George Will.

Check back with ISCOTUSnow for daily updates on the hearings.

This post originally appeared on ISCOTUSnow, the blog of Chicago-Kent’s Institute on the Supreme Court of the United States, on March 20, 2017.

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