You don't get to the Supreme Court without passing through the crucible of a Senate confirmation hearing -- and sometimes you don't get to the Supreme Court even then. But Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's SCOTUS nominee, survived the first day of his hearing relatively unscathed.
Here are the highlights, from the politics to the polyester to pro football.
Dems Focus on Garland and Trump
The first day of the hearing was devoted to opening statements from the Senators, followed with Gorsuch speaking, finally, only at the end. Such statements are a chance to frame the debate ahead and today they followed a fairly predictable pattern.
Senate Democrats repeatedly condemned their Republican colleagues for blocking Merrick Garland's nomination. Garland was put forward by then-President Obama after Justice Scalia's death, but never granted a Senate hearing. "I am deeply disappointed that it is under these circumstances that we begin these hearings," Senator Feinstein said.
But the Dems seemed to have found themselves in a Catch 22. Condemning the obstruction of Merrick Garland's nomination, would they be able to filibuster Gorsuch's in the next breath?
Democrats also pressured Gorsuch to distance himself from the president who has nominated him. Toward the end of the hearing, for example, Senator Richard Blumenthal said that judicial independence is "more important than ever, and your defense of it is critical."
"If you fail to be explicit and forthcoming we have to assume you will pass the Trump litmus test," he said.
Republicans -- and Neal Katyal -- Heap Praise on Gorsuch
Republicans repeatedly touted Gorsuch's credentials. Senator Orrin Hatch noted that Gorsuch had received the highest rating from the ABA, the "gold standard" for Supreme Court nominees. Gorsuch's career, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said, has been "defined by an unfailing commitment" to the Constitution and the separation of powers.
Gorsuch's rep was bolstered by testimony from Neal Katyal, the former acting solicitor general under President Obama, who introduced Gorsuch as a "first-rate intellect and a fair and decent man."
It wasn't all politics, either. Senators from both parties said they were anxious to delve into Gorsuch's position on separation of powers, the administrative state, privacy rights, religious freedom, and more.
Gorsuch Speaks, as Does John Elway
The hearings lasted about four hours today, with Gorsuch speaking only briefly at the end. He praised his mentors, Justices White, Kennedy, and Scalia, and promised to be an independent Supreme Court justice. Ours is not a self-aggrandizing judiciary in scarlet and ermine, he explained, but one of "honest, unadorned black polyester."
Gorsuch also pushed back against the view of Supreme Court justices as political partisans. His first ruling to reach the Supreme Court broke 5-4, with the Court affirming his judgment. Justices Thomas and Sotomayor were in the majority, Justices Stevens and Scalia dissented. "That's a lineup some might think unusual," he said. "But actually it's exactly the sort of thing that happens quietly day in and day out in the United States Supreme Court."
A tougher examination awaits Gorsuch tomorrow, as the nominee will be tasked with answering (or deftly avoiding) Senators' questions directly. But today's hearing ended with a surprisingly light touch: John Elway's endorsement of the Supreme Court candidate. As the Senate hearing was wrapping up, the Colorado Springs Gazette's Peter Marcus reported that the former quarterback and current general manager for the Denver Broncos had written the Senate Judiciary Committee to express his support.
"Neil is a big Denver Bronco's fan," Elway wrote, "and I can tell you that I'm a big fan of his."
- Full Text of Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch's Remarks to Senate Panel (Bloomberg)
- What to Read Before Gorsuch's Nomination Hearings (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
- Gorsuch Preps for Nomination Hearings With 'Murder Boards,' Low-Key Campaign (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)
- Trump Taps Noel Francisco for Solicitor General (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)