Judge Neil Gorsuch takes the stage today in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building, for the highly stylized start of his several-day Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
The Senate Judiciary Committee session that starts at 11 a.m. will last for several hours, but won’t include substantive questions for the 49-year-old nominee. Those will start tomorrow, and are likely to last into Tuesday night and into part of Wednesday. Instead, the hearing that will be gaveled into order by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will feature a different kind of drama.
Senators and Gorsuch will deliver prepared remarks. Starting with Grassley, followed by the senior Democratic senator, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the judiciary committee’s 20 members will have 10 minutes each to opine. Gorsuch will simply have to sit there and listen without fidgeting.
The two senators from Gorsuch’s home state of Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, will join the Obama administration’s former acting solicitor general, Neal Katyal, in introducing Gorsuch, who will then have 10 minutes to introduce himself.
What to look for: Democrats will be voting against Gorsuch, en masse, but they won’t necessarily say as much during the opening statements. Instead, lawmakers will speak of their concerns about issues that need to be explored further.
Feinstein set the tone Friday, issuing a series of statements that called Gorsuch a “pro-gun extremist,” a “pro-life extremist” and a judge who is “no friend to American workers,” all while stopping short of explicitly saying that she will oppose him. Listen for any hint of a filibuster threat.
Republicans will uniformly praise Gorsuch. The committee’s 11 GOP members will use their time to describe the many virtues of the Columbia, Harvard Law School and Oxford graduate. At least one member, and probably more, will note that some of the committee Democrats were in the Senate when Gorsuch was easily confirmed by voice vote in 2006 to the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Judge Merrick Garland will be remembered. Democrats are still fuming over the Republican power play last year that denied President Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, a shot at the seat. Democrats will voice anger over the GOP move, and during questions on Tuesday some will certainly ask Gorsuch about it.
Republicans and Democrats will tussle over ‘mainstream.’ Democrats will use their opening statements to cast Gorsuch as being “out of the mainstream,” as Feinstein did in describing him as “extreme.” Republicans will counter with evidence like the American Bar Association having given him the highest rating of “well qualified,” the same rating given Obama’s successful nominees, justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.