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Gorsuch emphasizes judicial independence at hearing

By LAWRENCE HURLEY and ANDREW CHUNG
Reuters

March 20. 2017 9:43PM
Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, left, accompanied U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch on Monday as he began his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill. (REUTERS/Jim Bourg)

WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch emphasized the need for judicial independence as the Senate Judiciary Committee opened its confirmation hearing on Monday.

Speaking publicly for the first time since President Donald Trump nominated him on Jan. 31, Gorsuch defended his record as judge in the face of criticism of his rulings by committee Democrats. Despite slim chances of blocking his nomination in the Republican-led Senate, Democrats raised questions about Gorsuch’s suitability for the court.

Gorsuch emphasized the need for “neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people’s disputes” and warned against judicial overreach. “If judges were just secret legislators, declaring not what the law is but what they would like it to be, the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk,” Gorsuch said.

Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire has been acting as Judge Gorsuch’s guide around Capitol Hill.

“I thought he had strong opening statements,” said Ayotte, who sat next to Gorsuch’s wife, Marie Louise, on Monday. “The real questions will come over the next two days. I think he’s ready.”

Ayotte is visible next to Marie in footage that went viral on social media Monday, showing Gorsuch turn and acknowledge his wife and exchange a hug.

“It was a very touching moment,” said Ayotte.

Ayotte said in addition to accompanying Gorsuch during meetings with 72 officials on Capitol Hill in recent weeks, she has helped prepare him for the hearings.

“Here is someone who’s received support from the legal community from both sides of the aisle,” said Ayotte, who pointed out Gorsuch received the highest rating from the American Bar Association. “There’s no question he’s qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.”

Committee Democrats noted that Gorsuch has the chance to join the court only because Senate Republicans last year refused to consider former President Barack Obama’s nomination of federal appeals court judge Merrick Garland.

“Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable, mainstream conservative or is he not,” said the panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the committee’s plain-spoken chairman, said the panel is likely to vote on the nomination on April 3, with the full Senate vote likely soon after. Gorsuch was set to face questioning by senators today.

If Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate, as expected, he would restore a narrow 5-4 conservative majority on the court. The seat has been vacant for 13 months, since the death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia in 2016.

Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal underscored the importance of judicial independence at a time when Trump has excoriated federal judges who have ruled against him on matters including his executive order, put on hold by courts, to block people from several Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.

Blumenthal said it was not “idle speculation” to suggest the Supreme Court might be asked to enforce a subpoena against Trump, citing FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before Congress on Monday confirming an ongoing investigation into alleged collusion between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russia.

Republican Ted Cruz said there is no reason for Gorsuch to be questioned about Trump, noting that previous nominees have not had to speak about allegations made against the Presidents who nominated them.

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Union Leader Staff Writer Paul Feely contributed to this report.


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