What to expect in the Gorsuch confirmation hearing
By Senator Orrin Hatch
As the longest-serving member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have fought on the front lines of some of the most contentious confirmation battles of modern times. At its best, the confirmation process provides an open venue for careful questioning and reflective deliberation; at its worst, the process can quickly devolve into partisan spectacle, killing the chances of even the most qualified nominees.
In next week’s confirmation hearing, Judge Neil Gorsuch should be spared the political pile-on that has crushed the hopes of past nominees. In Gorsuch, the Senate has before it a highly respected and indisputably qualified candidate for the Supreme Court. I hope that his upcoming confirmation hearing will be both fair and productive.
Having participated in my fair share of confirmation hearings, I have a good sense of what we can expect to see when Gorsuch comes before the Senate next week. If my colleagues and I do our jobs properly, the hearing will focus on Gorsuch’s background, his temperament and his approach to judging.
Gorsuch has an exceptional legal background that fully qualifies him to serve on the Supreme Court. He graduated with honors from Harvard Law School and obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Law from Oxford University. After finishing law school, he clerked for two Supreme Court justices. Gorsuch then spent more than a decade in private practice, where he represented both plaintiffs and defendants in complex civil litigation. He then served as principal deputy associate attorney general at the Department of Justice, and later, as a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.
Next week’s hearing will not only focus on Gorsuch’s legal credentials; it will also emphasize his impeccable character and his principled approach to judging. Gorsuch’s opinions show that he understands the proper role of a judge in our Constitutional system, and he frequently supports his reasoning with reference to fundamental constitutional principles. Instead of manipulating the law to achieve particular policies or outcomes he favors, he tries to harmonize the law with the understanding of those who originally wrote and passed it. Through this impartial approach, Gorsuch has shown respect for the democratically elected branches of government and the constitutionally prescribed separation of powers.
Notwithstanding Gorsuch’s superb qualifications and principled approach to judging, Democrats and their liberal allies strain mightily to find plausible grounds to oppose his nomination. They misread his opinions, misstate his reasoning, and in general paint a picture of a man who simply does not exist. Unfortunately, we can expect more attempts to misrepresent Gorsuch’s record during his confirmation hearing. In particular, we can expect to hear over and over again the false and frankly ridiculous claim that Gorsuch is outside the “judicial mainstream.”
Do not be deceived by progressives who say Gorsuch is outside the mainstream. Democratic Senators who push this specious claim are really just voicing their frustration that Gorsuch’s decisions will not always align with liberal policy goals. That’s because, much to liberals’ chagrin, Gorsuch’s approach to judging focuses not on politics but on the meaning of the law. In other words, he says what the law is — not what Democrats want it to be.
Recognize, as well, that a fixation on results is not the proper inquiry for a Supreme Court confirmation hearing. Such a hearing should focus on the nominee’s background, the nominee’s experience, and whether the nominee understands a federal judge’s proper role under our Constitution. On all of these metrics, Gorsuch is off-the-charts qualified.
Liberals will tie themselves in knots claiming that Gorsuch is some sort of fringe jurist, that his views place him on the far flank of the federal judiciary. But any honest observer will concede that these accusations are complete bunk. Opponents will claim that his decisions say things that they very clearly do not say, or stand for propositions that even a generous reading cannot substantiate.
Ultimately, Gorsuch’s opponents will fail because he is so clearly a man of integrity and so clearly qualified to serve on our nation’s highest court. I have full confidence that when Gorsuch’s hearing is over and the last question has been asked, he will have shown the Senate that he is ready to serve on the Supreme Court.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is former chairman and longest-serving current member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.