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Senators Leahy And Sanders Have Questions For Supreme Court Nominee Gorsuch

J. Scott Applewhite
President Trump's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders plan to use upcoming meetings with the Federal Appeals Court judge to learn more about his judicial philosophy.

Both of Vermont's U.S. senators, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, say they plan to question President Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, on a number of specific issues.

It's customary for a Supreme Court nominee to visit with senators prior to the start of their confirmation hearings. And Vermont's two senators want to use these meetings to learn more about the judicial philosophy of Judge Gorsuch.

On Wednesday, Sen. Leahy, a leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary committee, is scheduled to meet with Trump's nominee.

Recently, the Trump Administration issued an executive order that blocked immigration from seven largely Muslim countries for 120 days. And the administration also argued that the judicial branch of government did not have the authority to review this action because the order dealt with national security policies.

Late last week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with the administration's assertion, and it refused to reinstate the travel ban. Leahy says he wants to know what Gorsuch thinks about this case.

"I'm going to meet with him this coming week," said Leahy. “I certainly intend to ask him questions about it."

"I'm going to meet with him this coming week. I certainly intend to ask him questions about [the travel ban]." — Sen. Patrick Leahy

In 2006, the U.S. Senate unanimously supported the appointment of Gorsuch to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Leahy says he voted for Gorsuch because he thought he was qualified to be an appellate judge, but Leahy says serving on the U.S. Supreme Court is a very different situation.

"He is not who I would have picked, but there was a Republican president,” said Leahy. “I felt he was qualified for the Court of Appeals, but now we'll look at, how did he act when he was on the Court of Appeals?" 

Sen. Bernie Sanders says he plans to meet with Gorsuch in the near future, although no specific date has been scheduled.

Last week, in a meeting with Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gorsuch was quoted as saying that recent criticism of the judiciary was "demoralizing" for many judges.

The White House later said that the comments made by Gorsuch were not specifically aimed at President Trump, who had referred to the first federal judge who blocked the administration's travel ban as a "so-called" judge.

"I think it is important that he make it really clear, publicly ... that he found it grossly offensive when Donald Trump referred to judges who ruled against him [as] 'so-called' judges.'" — Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sanders wants Gorsuch to address this issue in public.

"I think it is important that he make it really clear, publicly — publicly, not behind closed doors — that he found it grossly offensive when Donald Trump referred to judges who ruled against him [as] 'so-called' judges,” said Sanders.

And Sanders says he'll have serious concerns about Gorsuch's independence if the judge doesn't answer this question.

"If Gorsuch cannot do that now, I wonder how strong he will be to standing up to Trump if he gets that seat,” said Sanders.

Sanders also plans to question Gorsuch on his thoughts about the Citizens United decision that allows corporations and unions to spend an unlimited amount of money to support or oppose political candidates through independent expenditures.

"What I think this nomination process is about is for Gorsuch to tell the American people how he feels about those issues that will impact millions of us, and we'll go from there," Sanders says.

It takes 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to block a filibuster of a Supreme Court nomination.

Republican leaders say they might change the rules to require just a simple majority if they believe that the Democrats are not giving Gorsuch a fair opportunity to be confirmed. It's a strategy known as "the nuclear option."

Leahy and Sanders both say that the partisan divide in the Senate will get even worse if the Republicans chose to invoke this option.

Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
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