Opposition tactics in the Senate over presidents supreme court nominee are likely to focus on anti-worker bias rather than touchstone social issues
Senate Democrats will seek to tar Neil Gorsuch with the same brush as Donald Trump when his supreme court confirmation hearing begins on Monday, branding him a pro-big business judge who favours special interests over ordinary workers.
The minority party has chosen to focus on this line of attack rather than where the conservative Gorsuch stands on touchtone issues such abortion, gay rights and gun ownership. Analysts say this is an indication that they will use the hearing to hammer Trump and are ultimately resigned to his nominees confirmation.
Democrats need to figure out how they want to lose it, said Ed Whelan, president of the Ethics & Public Policy Center, speaking on a panel at Georgetown University Law Center last week. Its actually a very important strategic decision and I think theyre struggling with this now.
When the hearing begins on Capitol Hill on Monday morning, Gorsuch, who at 49 is the youngest nominee for the supreme court in a quarter of a century, will be introduced by Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, senators from his home state of Colorado, and former acting solicitor general Neal Katyal. Between then and Thursday, he will face probing questions from 20 senators.
With a lifetime appointment at stake, such hearings are high-intensity affairs and can throw up surprises. In 1991, Senator John Danforth introduced Clarence Thomas as having the loudest laugh he had ever heard It comes from deep inside and it shakes his body and Thomas himself choked up as he recalled: I watched as my grandfather was called boy. Then came allegations of sexual harassment from former employee Anita Hill, but Thomas ultimately cleared the Senate.
Now it is the era of Trump, whose election was helped in no small measure by the binary choice around the supreme court vacancy left by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia. Democrats are under huge pressure from their liberal base to give Gorsuch a rough ride, with many demanding revenge for Republicans refusal to give Barack Obamas nominee, Merrick Garland, so much as a hearing.
But while Democrats are likely to engage in sabre rattling to assuage activists, they are not expected to fight to the death. Republicans control the Senate 52-48. Democrats can seek to use a procedural maneuver, a filibuster, to block a confirmation vote if Gorsuchs supporters cannot muster 60 votes, although Republicans could respond by changing the Senate rules the so-called nuclear option that would make it easier for Trump to ram through future nominees.
He sides with the powerful few
Democrats offered a taste of their critique of Gorsuch last week. The Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, appeared on Capitol Hill with several individual plaintiffs Gorsuch ruled against as a judge on the Denver-based 10th US circuit court of appeals.
Judge Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge, but his record and his career clearly show that he harbors a rightwing, pro-corporate special interest agenda, Schumer said.
He expresses a lot of empathy and sympathy for the less powerful but when it comes time to rule, when the chips are down, far too often he sides with the powerful few over everyday Americans trying to just get a fair shake. Weve seen that play out time and time again.
The approach chimes with that taken by Democrats in the first two months of the Trump administration: from the presidents healthcare reform to his budget proposal, they have repeatedly emphasised economically centred arguments that he will benefit the wealthy and betray the working class, his core constituency. The Gorsuch hearing will be another proxy for their anti-Trump offensive.