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Hearing Day 2: Senators To Question Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch


It's the second day Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch takes questions from senators. His confirmation hearing began with a lot of talk of Merrick Garland, President Obama's nominee who never got a hearing. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: For nearly a year, Republicans refused to hold hearings on the Garland nomination or even to meet with the nominee, though most conceded he was highly qualified. If Republicans thought the Democrats would get over it, they were very much mistaken. As Gorsuch sat at the witness table yesterday trying not to react, one Democrat after another took the microphone to blast the GOP's Garland blockade as unprecedented, a stain on the Senate. Here's Democratic Whip Richard Durbin.


RICHARD DURBIN: You're entitled to be judged on the merits. The Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee will extend to you a courtesy which Senate Republicans denied to Judge Garland, a respectful hearing and a vote.

TOTENBERG: Democrat Patrick Leahy also accused President Trump of outsourcing to two private conservative groups, the task of compiling a list of potential nominees to the court. Those two were the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.


PATRICK LEAHY: I do not know of any other Supreme Court nominee who was selected by interest groups rather than by a president in consultation with the Senate as required by the Constitution.

TOTENBERG: But Republican Lindsey Graham disagreed. He was one of a handful of Republicans who voted for President Obama's two early and successful Supreme Court nominees Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.


LINDSEY GRAHAM: They lived exemplary lives who were highly qualified, and that's why I voted for them. I thought that's what we should be doing, and I'm beginning to wonder now how the game is played.

TOTENBERG: When it came time to introduce Gorsuch, Colorado's two senators Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat Michael Bennet did the honors. It was a ticklish position for Bennet who walked a tightrope between praising Gorsuch's personal qualities while at the same time saying he has not yet decided how to vote on the nomination.

Finally, it was time for Gorsuch to make his opening statement, addressing charges that his judicial record shows a distinct sympathy for corporate America and not for regular people. He had this to say.


NEIL GORSUCH: I've decided cases for Native Americans seeking to protect tribal lands for class actions like one that ensured compensation for victims of a large nuclear waste pollution problem produced by corporations in Colorado. I've ruled for disabled students, for prisoners, for the accused, for workers alleging civil rights violations and for undocumented immigrants.

Sometimes, too, I've ruled against such persons. My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me, only a judgment about the law and the facts at issue in each particular case.

TOTENBERG: Gorsuch and his handlers also made a clear attempt to humanize the nominee who looks the part of a judge and has a voice of God intonation, but can appear stiff and ponderous. He spoke of the late Justice Antonin Scalia as a mentor who taught him the value of words.


GORSUCH: Now, we didn't agree on everything. The justice fished with the enthusiasm of a New Yorker. He thought the harder you slapped the line on the water, somehow more the fish would love it.

TOTENBERG: And as he began his remarks, he had this to say about Louise, his wife of more than 20 years.


GORSUCH: The sacrifices she has made and her open and giving heart - they leave me in awe. I love you so much.

TOTENBERG: And then he swiveled around in his chair and as the cameras clicked furiously, he embraced his wife, a moment reminiscent of Al and Tipper Gore's kiss at the 2000 Democratic convention, more modest, but equally awkward. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.