The Senate Judiciary committee hearings started on Monday for Supreme Court nominee Neil M. Gorsuch, albeit under unusual circumstances.
Normally, Supreme Court hearings get the full attention of Congress and other important institutions in Washington.
Not only was Gorsuch’s first day in front of the committee battling for media coverage with live testimony from FBI Director James Comey in the House, Congress is also in a huge debate about a health-care overhaul, which may see its first fill House vote later this week.
Gorsuch’s hearings are also unusual since they are taking place more than a year after the death of Antonin Scalia, the Justice who Gorsuch has been nominated to replace on the Supreme Court.
On day one, the Judiciary committee proceedings were limited to the reading of written statements from 20 committee members, two Senators, and a former Obama administration official. Gorsuch read his own statement later in the day, after he was sworn in to testify at the hearing.
“Sitting here I am acutely aware of my own imperfections,” Gorsuch said. “But I pledge to each of you and to the American people that, if confirmed, I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution.”
While Republicans praised Gorsuch as well-qualified for the Supreme Court, Democrats openly questioned his past legal rulings on campaign spending, health care and Chevron deference – a legal theory related to courts deferring to executive agencies that make rules based on their interpretations of statutes.
Tuesday’s direct testimony from Gorsuch, as with prior confirmation hearings, is expected to provide the most insight into his positions on legal matters related to major court cases and his overall judicial philosophy.
"I've served on this committee for 40 years, and some things with confirmation hearings never change," Senator Orrin Hatch remarked, as cameras clicked in the committee room and the Senators read their statements.
As the Monday session opened, committee chair Charles Grassley said he wanted a Judiciary committee vote next Monday, which would be several weeks sooner than votes held for three prior Court nominees: Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Samuel Alito.
Grassley also said he wanted a full Senate vote on Gorsuch by April 3, which also would be at a faster pace than used to approve those three recent nominees. If Grassley is successful in fulfilling that agenda, Gorsuch could be seated on the bench to hear the final round of arguments in the Court’s current term – and a possible appeal about the Trump administration’s immigration ban executive order.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.