One of the most convoluted Supreme Court confirmation battles in history will finally reach the U.S. Senate on Monday 20th March, 401 days after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia left a vacancy that has spanned two presidencies and spawned two nominees.
Federal Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s choice to be the country’s 113th Supreme Court justice, is set to face several days of harsh questioning from Democrats, still enraged at the Republican-controlled Senate’s refusal to consider President Barack Obama’s nominee last year. Then, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell vowed the seat would remain vacant through the Presidential election, a promise he kept despite Obama’s compromise nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and a relatively moderate jurist.
Judge Gorsuch’s nomination was destined for a fight not only because of the Republican block on Judge Garland, but also because of the very President who nominated him – one who promised to employ litmus tests on abortion and guns, who largely outsourced the initial nomination process to the conservative Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation, and who has attacked federal judges who ruled against him, both as a businessman and as President.
And so Judge Gorsuch will face the multi-day Senate Judiciary Committee nomination hearing on Monday, in what Republicans probably hope will be a quick process to confirmation by the time Congress leaves for its Easter recess.
Judge Gorsuch’s supporters are anticipating several lines of attack from Senate Democrats, mainly concerns about decisions he made on women’s issues like the Hobby Lobby case, and his apparent bias towards business over regular people in labour-related cases.
Judge Gorsuch has been preparing for the hearings with help from lawyers in the Justice Department and the White House counsel’s office. That includes undergoing mock hearings, as well as extensively revisiting his own opinions and different areas of the law that could surface during the hearing.
Something to look out for starting from Monday: the Democratic senators who hail from states where Trump was elected. These are the most likely swing votes on Judge Gorsuch’s nomination. None of them are out of bounds for Republican outside groups trying to put the heat on Democrats.
Interestingly enough, the Judicial Crisis Network – an American conservative political campaign organisation – has so far apparently spent close to $5m of a planned $10m advertisement buy in support Judge Gorsuch. There is an expectation that around $15 to $20m will be spent by outside GOP groups on similar advertisement buys.
The key question is how far will the rest of Senate Democrats go with their opposition. Left-leaning advocates are vowing a big fight, and they have energised Democratic constituents on their side to pressure lawmakers to stay tough.
What is clear is that the nomination process will prove to be interesting: it is obvious that there will be Democrats who will seek to thwart President Trump, and it is equally as obvious that Republicans are willing to invoke the ‘nuclear option’ -changing Senate rules in relation to the 60 vote threshold for confirmation.