Dianne Feinstein is embarking on a crucial moment in her 24-year Senate career: leading what’s likely to be tense, lengthy and intensely watched scrutiny of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, expressed deep concern Tuesday night about Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch, a federal appeals judge in Denver.
The committee will hold confirmation hearings on Gorsuch, probably later this winter. Feinstein promised a “through review,” but noted, “Judge Gorsuch voted twice to deny contraceptive coverage to women, elevating a corporation’s religious beliefs over women’s health care.”
She has other worries, notably concerning Trump’s immigration order Friday barring refugees and citizens from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering this country.
Feinstein won’t talk specifically about her committee strategy. But she said Tuesday that in just the Trump administration’s first week “we’ve seen a flurry of executive orders and presidential declarations like none before – some broad, some seemingly unconstitutional, some unenforceable – and all deeply concerning in their intent and legality.”
The Judiciary Committee has 11 Republicans and nine Democrats. If the committee approves Gorsuch, his nomination goes to the full Senate for approval. Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, chairs the panel. He’s regarded as independent-minded but routinely sides with Republicans on judicial matters.
Feinstein will be leading a group of Democrats on the committee including aggressive questioners such as Al Franken of Minnesota, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
“There will be questions for the nominee about whether they believe these executive orders are consistent with the rule of law and the Constitution of the United States,” Blumenthal said. “It will be very, very significant in reflecting the nominee’s understanding of the Constitution.”
Liberal groups are cheered by how passionately Feinstein attacked Trump’s executive orders as she voted against his nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, in the Judiciary Committee.
“She has always been an incredibly thoughtful senator, a senator who cares deeply about the issues that come before the Supreme Court,” said Daniel Goldberg, legal director at the Alliance for Justice. “It’s telling the type of leadership she showed on the Jeff Sessions nomination.”
Republicans control 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Feinstein has a tough job, as even Trump critics among the Republicans, such as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, are supporting Gorsuch.
“Judge Gorsuch is a well-qualified jurist with an impeccable résumé,” Graham said Tuesday. “ I look forward to his eventual confirmation to the Supreme Court.”
Graham said he’d voted for Democratic nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan “not because I agreed with them, but because both were qualified to serve on the court.”
“I urge my colleagues to extend Judge Gorsuch the same courtesy when considering his nomination. I ask no more of them than I asked of myself,” Graham said.”
The Senate split mostly on partisan lines in the confirmations of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan, with few Republicans joining Graham in voting to support them.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said it was wrong for Democrats to launch a “partisan crusade” against Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.
“It doesn’t matter if the president is George H.W. Bush or Gerald Ford,” he said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “They’ll warn of impending doom . . . they’ll claim the end is nigh.”
Feinstein opposed George W. Bush Supreme Court nominees John Roberts Jr. and Samuel Alito but broke with her party to support a controversial Bush federal appellate court nominee, Leslie Southwick. Feinstein is well prepared for hearings and avoids grandstanding, said Rory Little, a professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco.
“At a time when public trust in our institutions is at an all-time low and our country is bitterly divided, a thorough and fair review is vitally important,” Feinstein said Tuesday night.
Former San Francisco Chronicle editorial page editor Jerry Roberts, author of the biography “Dianne Feinstein: Never Let Them See You Cry,” said Trump’s executive orders struck at the heart of Feinstein’s fastidious view of what she saw as correct government process.
“That’s the kind of thing that drives her crazy,” he said. “It goes back to Dianne, the girl at the Convent of the Sacred Heart school.”
Roberts said Feinstein’s role as the Democrats’ leader in vetting Trump’s nominee represented one of the most significant moments of her long Senate career.
“It’s real legacy stuff, whether she decides to run again in two years or not,” Roberts said.