Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearings on Supreme Court Nominee

By Allen Smith, J.D. Mar 20, 2017

​Judge Neil Gorsuch, nominee to the Supreme Court, faces four days of hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. The first day, March 20, was full of opening statements from each of the committee senators and Gorsuch. On the second and third days of the hearing, each committee member will have 50 minutes to question Gorsuch. On the fourth day, witnesses will speak for and against his nomination.

Worker Safety a Concern for Feinstein

The ranking Democrat on the committee, Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., said she intends to ask Gorsuch about his stand on corporate dollars in elections, worker safety and the ability of federal agencies to regulate. (The Washington Post)

'Reasonable Mainstream Conservative?'

Feinstein said that it is senators' responsibility through the hearing to determine whether Gorsuch is a "reasonable mainstream conservative." Meanwhile, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Gorsuch for an "unfailing commitment" to the principle of separation of powers. Grassley announced plans for a committee vote on April 3, followed by a vote in the full Senate later that week. (Chicago Tribune)

Questioning Agencies' Stands, Deferring to Courts

Gorsuch has called the deference that courts give federal agencies' interpretation of statutes an "abdication of judicial duty." And yet he also has demonstrated respect for judicial continuity by deferring to prior case law as an important principle, according to a Democrat who has appeared before Gorsuch in the 10th Circuit. (U.S. News & World Report opinion column)

Strict Textualist

However, Gorsuch's dissents on the 10th Circuit have raised some concerns among workers' rights advocates. For example, in one case, an employer fired a trucker who was stranded on the side of the road in freezing temperatures and defied his bosses' orders that he drive away with the trailer or stay on site. The majority of the 10th Circuit decided the termination was illegal, but Gorsuch said it was not. "It is our job and work enough for the day to apply the law Congress did pass, not to imagine and enforce one it might have but didn't," he said. (CNN)

Reining in Agency Interpretations

In another decision, Gorsuch dissented from an appeals court upholding a $5,500 penalty after a worker died in an electrocution accident. He stated that the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission did not interpret the rules correctly. Even administrative agencies "cannot penalize private persons and companies without some evidence the law has been violated," he wrote. (Los Angeles Times)

Partisan Fight

Monday's hearing was largely along partisan lines. Many Democratic senators invoked the name of Merrick Garland, former President Barrack Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court, who did not get a hearing. If the Judiciary Committee approves Gorsuch's nomination, he will need 60 votes by the full Senate to avoid a filibuster. But Republicans might change the rules and confirm him on a majority vote. (The New York Times)

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