By Lawrence Hurley and Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court nominee, on Monday emphasized the need for judicial independence even as Trump castigates jurists who have ruled against him, while Democrats questioned whether he would rule against abortion rights and gun control while favoring corporations.
With the ideological balance of the Supreme Court at stake, the Senate Judiciary Committee opened its confirmation hearing for Gorsuch, a conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado. Republicans praised Gorsuch, 49, as highly qualified for a lifetime appointment as a justice.
“I think we’re off to a good start,” Republican Chuck Grassley, the committee’s chairman, said afterward, with senators getting their first shot at questioning Gorsuch on Tuesday.
Committee Democrats noted Gorsuch has the chance to join the court only because Senate Republicans last year refused to consider Democratic former President Barack Obama’s nomination of federal appellate judge Merrick Garland. Despite slim chances of blocking his nomination in the Republican-led Senate, Democrats raised questions about Gorsuch’s suitability for the job.
“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.
Speaking publicly for the first time since Trump nominated him on Jan. 31, Gorsuch defended his judicial record in the face of Democratic criticism of his rulings.
Gorsuch, speaking mostly in generalities that could not cause him any trouble, emphasized the need for “neutral and independent judges to apply the law,” warned against judicial overreach, and referred to “the modest station we judges are meant to occupy in a democracy.”
“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 in comments…