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'Something is seriously wrong': Hatch, Lee decry Democrats' 'litmus tests,' back Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

First Published      Last Updated Mar 21 2017 08:11 am


Senate hearing » Utahns accuse Democrats of pushing politics into high court nomination debate.

Washington • Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee on Monday offered their enthusiastic support for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and castigated Democrats for trying to pin down President Donald Trump's choice to fill the high court vacancy on how he would rule in specific cases.

"Something is seriously wrong when a confirmation process for Supreme Court justice resembles an election campaign for political office," Hatch said during his opening remarks. "This dangerous approach contradicts the oath of judicial office prescribed by federal law."

Hatch, a member and former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which began its confirmation hearings on Gorsuch's nomination Monday, said his opponents are trying to require answers that would violate the 10th Circuit Court judge's oath and that previous nominees now sitting on the court wouldn't answer in their hearings.




"Any self-respecting judge who comes in with an agenda that would tell you how they will vote — we don't want as a judge," Hatch said.

Gorsuch's hearing comes at a polarizing time in Washington with Democrats still smarting over the GOP-led Senate's refusal to even take up President Barack Obama's nomination of U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy of the late Associate Justice Antonin Scalia almost one year ago.

Trump's nominee, meanwhile, appeared before the Judiciary Committee less than two months after his appointment.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., referred to the vacancy as the "Garland seat," and of the GOP's blocking of his nomination as "an embarrassment to this body."

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was "deeply disappointed" to begin the hearings for Gorsuch since Garland was "widely regarded as a mainstream moderate" but that Trump promised to name someone in the mold of Scalia, who was an anchor of the conservatives on the bench.

"For those of us on this side, our job is not to theoretically evaluate this or that legal doctrine, or to review Judge Gorsuch's record in a vacuum," Feinstein said. "Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable, mainstream conservative, or is he not."

Democrats raised concerns about cases Gorsuch has ruled on from the appeals court that oversees federal courts in six states, including Utah. In one case, he ruled against a trucker who was fired for saying he wouldn't operate his long-haul truck in bitter weather conditions that might affect his brakes and against the long-standing Chevron Doctrine, which gives deference to federal agencies to write regulations for laws passed by Congress.

Gorsuch said during his time on the bench, he's ruled for and against different parties but relied on the rule of law to do so.

"My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me — only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case," he told the Judiciary Committee.

Gorsuch, who has served on the 10th Circuit since 2006, said that if he is confirmed, "I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant to the Constitution and laws of this great nation."

Lee, who was a lawyer in private practice before being elected to the Senate, noted that he once argued in front of Gorsuch and found him to be "one of the best judges in the country."

"You come to oral arguments prepared," Lee said. "You asked fair probing questions that are designed to get at one thing and one thing only, which is what the law says and what the law requires in each individual case, depending on the facts and circumstances of that case. You weren't there to promote a personal agenda or political agenda and you're not there to grandstand."

Lee added that the American judicial system "depends entirely on judges just like you" who are independent and whose only agenda is to make the right determination "regardless of whether any particular judge or litigant or any member of the public might like or dislike in the case."

Hatch, who has played a role in the confirmation of every sitting justice on the high court, said that too often senators or special interests "require a political agenda and a calculator" in deciding whether they will back a nominee.

What if, the Utah senator said, a judge had ruled 83 percent of the time against the defendant in immigration cases and with Republican-appointed judges 95 percent of the time. That isn't Gorsuch, Hatch added, it was now-Associate Justice Sonya Sotomayor when she was an appellate judge. Hatch voted against Sotomayor, who was nominated by Obama.

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