President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Neil Gorsuch, begins his confirmation hearing today at the Senate Judiciary Committee where California Senator Dianne Feinstein is the highest ranking Democrat. She began today's hearing, as the New York Times and Town Hall reports, saying "We’re here today under very unusual circumstances," and that she was "deeply disappointed" that President Obama's nominee to the court, Merrick Garland, never received the courtesy of even a meeting with Senate Republicans despite his being "widely regarded as a mainstream moderate nominee." Now, she said, it is the committee's task "to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable mainstream conservative, or is he not?"
She further expressed concern today that, like the man he'd be replacing on the court, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, Gorsuch is a strict originalist, a stance she says "ignores the intent of the framers" of the Constitution. Originalism rejects all judicial decision making that does not adhere to the text of the Constitution as written, something that more moderate and liberal justices have long rejected because of the many issues they face that the framers could never have anticipated that require nuanced interpretations. "It’s a framework on which to build,” Feinstein said in the hearing. “I firmly believe the Constitution is a living document that evolves as our country evolves," she said, adding that if some justices had not treated it as such, we would still have segregated schools and unequal protections for women.
Her Republican colleague at the head of the committee and now its chairman, Senator Charles E. Grassley, opened the hearing by praising Gorsuch's "grasp on the separation of powers, including judicial independence," and noting with some sarcasm that the tables had turned with the recent election, and "Some of my [Democratic] colleagues seem to have rediscovered an appreciation for the need to confine each branch of government to its constitutional sphere."
Senator Feinstein's office issued a statement ahead of the hearing laying out what are likely to be her main points of interrogation for this week's hearing. Per the Chronicle because the statement does not yet appear on the senator's website Feinstein said that Gorsuch "has consistently sided with employers and corporate interests" and against reproductive rights for women, and that his record on the latter showed him to be a "pro-life extremist."
NPR reported also on a letter to the Senate committee submitted by a former law student's of Judge Gorsuch who cited a classroom discussion in which he allegedly "ask[ed] students how many of us knew women who used their companies for maternity benefits, who used their companies to in order to have a baby and then leave right away," and advocated for law firms asking female candidates for jobs what their plans were for having children.
A separate letter submitted by another student in the same class claimed that this was a mischaracterization of the discussion, and a third letter submitted by a dozen former female law clerks of Gorsuch contended that he "treats and values women fairly and without preference or prejudice based on their gender."
Congressional Democrats have been facing major pressure from the left, as the Times notes, to exact revenge for the Republicans' unprecedented obstruction of Garland's nomination last year, and it remains to be seen if they have the will to filibuster Gorsuch's nomination.
In responding to a group of protesters outside a Los Angeles fundraiser over the weekend, Senator Feinstein gave some off-the-cuff remarks about the confirmation hearing, though she said it made "no sense" for her to make up her mind about Gorsuch before going through the history of cases that he's decided. Per the LA Times, Feinstein said she was "humiliated" by Republicans' refusal to hold hearings for Garland, and "[Republicans] took it away from [Obama], don’t think we don't know it. Don’t think we don't remember it. And don’t think that that doesn’t stick deeply with us."
In true Feinstein fashion, though, when a protester shouted at her that she should "take a stand" on the Gorsuch nomination, she replied drily, "Young man, I’ve made more stands in my lifetime than you are old by far."
Update: Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) gave a pointed opening statement during the hearing as well, saying, "This hearing is about the people in this country who are getting screwed every single second minute and hour of the day."
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) said in his statement that the committee must determine if Gorsuch's interpretation of the Constitution "will unfairly favor corporate interests over working families."
Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) then took to Fox News after the close of the hearing today to say that Democrats want their judges to be "super-legislators."