WASHINGTON – Judge Neil Gorsuch’s nomination hearing to become an associate justice of the Supreme Court was aptly characterized Monday by Gorsuch: “This is quite a lot different than the last time I was here.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room was packed, contrasting with Gorsuch’s 2006 confirmation hearing for the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals when a single senator, Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, attended. As Gorsuch was introduced by U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, the sound of camera shutters filled the room.
As expected, Gardner gave a glowing introduction of Gorsuch, calling him a “faithful ... and ardent defender of our constitution.”
Gardner poked a bit of fun at the fact that Supreme Court justices tend to come from East Coast states. Gorsuch would be only the second Coloradan to serve at the high court, after Justice Byron White.
“Judge Gorsuch’s nomination recognizes that there are indeed highly qualified jurists west of the Mississippi river,” said Gardner.
Gorsuch mentioned his admiration for Justice White in his opening statement.
“In Colorado today, there is God and John Elway and Peyton Manning. In my childhood, it was God and Byron White,” Gorsuch said.
Bennet also gave introductory remarks; he did not commit to how he would eventually vote, saying “I am keeping an open mind about this nomination.”
Gorsuch’s qualifications were enumerated by Gardner and Bennet.
“Judge Gorsuch is not an ideologue. He is a mainstream jurist who follows the law as written and doesn’t try to supplant it with his own personal policy preferences,” Gardner said.
“I believe Judge Gorsuch is unquestionably committed to the rule of law,” Bennet said.
Bennet also outlined hurdles Gorsuch must overcome. The main hurdles, which were reflected in the opening statements of the Democrats on the committee, surround President Donald Trump’s attack on judicial independence and the Senate’s treatment of Chief Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated to the Supreme Court seat by President Barack Obama in March 2016, but the GOP refused to schedule a confirmation hearing.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said, “Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable mainstream conservative, or is he not.”
Gorsuch acknowledged his imperfections in his opening statement, and gave the committee a deeper understanding of his judicial philosophy.
“Putting on a robe does not make me any smarter. Putting on a robe reminds us judges that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds. Ours is a judiciary of honest, black polyester,” Gorsuch said.
He also began to explain how he has previously decided cases, a thread that will likely be focused on more in questioning Tuesday.
“My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch invoked his learning at the hand of Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Gorsuch clerked. Gorsuch said Kennedy taught him that “a case isn’t just a number or a name, but a life story.”
Shira Stein is a reporting intern for The Durango Herald in Washington, D.C., and a student at American University. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @stein_shira.This story has been updated to correct that Neil Gorsuch would be the second Coloradan on the bench; there have been several justices from other western states, including most recently Sandra Day O’Connor, who was born in Texas and living in Arizona when appointed.