There has been a fierce clash among Senators at the confirmation hearing of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch.
The seat was vacated 13 months ago when Justice Antonin Scalia passed away.
There was an angry exchange among Republicans and Democrats over why Barack Obama’s nominee for the post was not given a hearing last year.
Although Mr. Gorsuch is yet to be questioned, he strongly backed independent judiciary in a short address. He took a back seat on the first day of the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. A tough grilling is expected on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Democrats berated Republicans for blocking Mr. Obama’s choice Merrick Garland as Justice Scalia’s replacement before Mr. Gorsuch spoke.
While addressing Mr. Gorsuch, Democrat Senator Dick Durbin said:
“Your nomination is part of a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch of government.”
Mr. Gorsuch’s appointment would lead to another “Republican 5-4 special interest spree,” suggested Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; he was pointing at the restoration of a 5-4 conservative majority on America’s highest court.
Senate Republicans pointed a quote by Joe Biden in 1992, who was the chairman of the then Judiciary Committee, that President George H.W. Bush should not name the Supreme Court nominee until after the upcoming election.
Senator Lindsey Graham said that “I don’t think any injustice has been done,” and stated that if the Democrats had been in the same position last year, they would have followed the same course of action. Despite his opposition to Trump’s election campaign, he hailed President’s nominee as the “best choice available.”
Republican Ted Cruz said that Justice Scalia’s legacy would have been in danger if Mr. Obama’s choice had been allowed. He also stated that by delaying the nomination until the election, the “American people played a direct role in choosing this nomination.”
No one disputed Mr. Gorsuch’s qualification for the post; Republican Chuck Grassley, who is also the Committee chairman, hailed Mr. Gorsuch’s “exceptional record” and lauded him for his commitment to “the preservation of our constitutional order and the separation of powers.”
Mr. Gorsuch championed independent judiciary and neutral judges when he came up to speak:
“Each generation must carry the baton or watch it fall. If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk. These days we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially. If I thought that were true I’d hang up the robe.”
It is still not clear whether Democrats would try to block the nomination; even if they do, their options are limited.
Republicans can change the chamber’s rules to make the confirmation easier if the Democrats try to block him. They are hoping to have Judge Gorsuch’s nomination confirmed before Congress leaves for recess on April 7.