Neil Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing: 5 things to watch for as Trump SCOTUS pick testifies

Neil Gorsuch Confirmation Hearing: 5 things to watch for as Trump SCOTUS pick testifies
Source: Getty Images
Source: Getty Images

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee to fill Antonin Scalia's empty seat on the Supreme Court, will face the Senate at 11 a.m. Monday for his first round of confirmation hearings.

Gorsuch is widely viewed as a Constitutional originalist whose judicial opinions so closely resemble those of now-deceased Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia that he's been called "Scalia 2.0" by Politico and a "Scalia clone" by FiveThirtyEight.

Here's what to watch for as Gorsuch goes before the Senate:

Will he stand up to Trump — and can Democrats make that play in their favor?

While Gorsuch tends to stick to originalism, he doesn't necessarily always stay within the boundaries of Scalia-based conservative jurisprudence – or side with conservatives just for the sake of siding with conservatives.

As Politico noted, for example, Scalia was in favor of government agencies interpreting legal statutes as it suits them — called the Chevron doctrine — while Gorsuch prefers to second-guess non-judicial authority and would rather keep interpretation of legal statutes in the hands of the courts.

This could make Gorsuch at least palatable to Democrats if he pushes back against pressure from the executive branch. In February, Trump lashed out at federal judges who opposed his first attempt at an immigration ban executive order. Gorsuch reportedly called Trump's attacks "disheartening" and "demoralizing."

Gorsuch presents a test for Democrats working to block Trump at every turn, as Politico noted. His criticism of Trump's comments against the judges could prove to be too enticing for Democrats to want to block him.

The Democrat angle

So far, Democrats in the Senate have struggled to find a tangible foothold to make a strong case against Gorsuch. Despite his troubling views on LGBT and women's rights, Americans met Gorsuch's nomination with positivity, according to a CNN/ORC poll. 

Gorsuch is, at his core, deeply conservative. According to Politico, he shares Scalia's basic conservative views on abortion, affirmative action, gun control and capital punishment.

Expect Democrats to focus on general litmus test questions on issues like Trump's Muslim ban and immigrant rights, marijuana legalization (Gorsuch is from Colorado), same-sex marriage, healthcare and abortion.

Who's asking the questions?

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) made headlines during Betsy DeVos's Senate confirmation hearings for his bulldog style of questioning. Franken's questions about proficiency versus growth, for example, pushed DeVos into a corner that forced her to reveal that she has no idea what the difference between them are.

Sen. Chris Murphy's (D-Conn.) questioning about whether or not guns should be in schools again forced DeVos into a corner and surrounded her with deeply unflattering headlines. Although she was confirmed (though just barely), DeVos's answers and the Democratic senators who pried them out of her destroyed any chance of educators taking her seriously.

If Democrats are similarly aggressive with Gorsuch, it could mean Trump's pick is in for a long, contentious set of hearings — even if confirmation is inevitable.

Trends in Gorsuch's responses

Fox News reported that Gorsuch has been put through the ringer in preparation for his confirmation. Gorsuch was grilled for hours in a "murder board," an intensive simulation for his confirmation hearing, which Fox noted is intended to prevent Gorsuch from providing the opposition with any unsavory, unscripted soundbites.

Thomas Dupree, a former deputy assistant attorney general under Bush, told Fox that Gorush is "a home run, he's smooth, he's going to go through great." 

The length of the hearings

Longer hearings can allow opposing senators to prepare increasingly harder questions intended to force Gorsuch to contradict himself or highlight the hypocrisy of any hard-line stances. Attorney General Jeff Sessions' hearings lasted two days and he managed to stumble under questioning from Franken, resulting in his recusal from the ongoing investigation into Russia's possible interference in the presidential election.

Gorsuch's hearings are scheduled to cover four days. As Fox reported, Gorsuch is primed and ready for the days of intense grilling — but the same was said for Betsy DeVos. Politico reported she participated in mock hearings prior to her contentious hearing, which included her now-infamous claim that grizzly bears were a reason for the federal government not to ban guns in schools.