Five things to watch for in Supreme Court showdown

Hearings on the confirmation of President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, kick off this week. 

The Colorado-based federal appellate judge is likely to face tough questions from Democrats, many of whom view his nomination as an attempt to steal a seat that should have been filled by former President Obama.

Republicans’ refusal to hold a hearing or vote on Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, until the next president was chosen gave the country its longest-ever court vacancy and Trump the chance to fill a seat previously held by a leading conservative.  

With Gorsuch, Trump appears to have delivered on his promise to name someone in the mold of Justice Antonin Scalia, whose death last year opened up the seat.

ADVERTISEMENT
Democrats have characterized Gorsuch as a judge who puts the interests of big business over American workers, but not everyone in the party seems ready to filibuster his nomination. 

If they can’t get Gorsuch past the 60-vote filibuster threshold, Republicans could go “nuclear” by removing the filibuster and eliminating not only Democrats’ ability to filibuster Gorsuch but other Supreme Court nominations to come.

With three justices in their 80s, Trump could have the chance to fill as many as four seats on the Supreme Court during his presidency. Democrats may chose to save this fight for the future.

For now, Gorsuch needs the support of at least eight Democrats to win confirmation in the 52-48 GOP majority. 

Here are five things to watch for. 

How will Gorsuch handle pressure from Democrats to speak out against Trump? 

Right out of the gate, Democrats are likely to ask Gorsuch what he thinks about Trump’s recent attacks on the judges who have ruled against his travel ban.  

Gorsuch called Trump’s remarks “disheartening and demoralizing” in a closed door meeting with Sen. Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalOnly Congress can enable drone technology to reach its full potential Overnight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Dems urge Sessions to reject AT&T-Time Warner merger MORE (D-Conn.) last month, but refused the senator’s request to make the statements publicly. 

When a federal judge halted Trump’s original order banning people from seven predominately Muslim countries from entering the United States, the president referred to him as a “so-called judge” and called his order “ridiculous.”

“The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!" Trump tweeted. 

As a member of the Judiciary Committee, the questions are likely to come from Blumenthal, who said last month that Gorsuch must prove he has the courage and independence to stand up to the president in public.

Now that two federal judges have blocked Trump's revised travel order, Gorsuch is sure to be asked whether he thinks the ban is constitutional. 

Where do red-state Democrats fall on Gorsuch?

Since Republicans need 60 votes, the GOP will be looking to Democrats from swing or deep-red states for the eight votes they need across the aisle. 

Support could come from Sen. Heidi HeitkampHeidi HeitkampSenate Democrats: ObamaCare repeal fight isn't over yet Dem senator: Don't bet against McConnell on ObamaCare repeal Senate Dem undecided on 2018 reelection run MORE, who is running for reelection in North Dakota, a reliably red state. She was reportedly one of the few Democrats to publicly say she would oppose a filibuster.

There’s also Sen. Jon TesterJon TesterOvernight Regulation: Labor groups fear rollback of Obama worker protection rule | Trump regs czar advances in Senate | New FCC enforcement chief Trump's 'regulatory czar' advances in Senate Gianforte causes stir after becoming newest House member MORE of Montana, who has said he doesn’t believe Democrats should play games with the confirmation.

Senators facing tough reelection fights, like Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSenate Dem: 'We've got to stop the administration from sabotaging the private insurance market' No certainty on cost-sharing payments to insurers Dems express concerns about Trump's proposed rural development cuts MORE (Mich.), might also be swayed. Her state voted for the GOP presidential nominee in 2016 for the first time in decades, and conservative groups are pressuring her not to block this nomination. 

The National Republican Senatorial Committee ran an ad in Michigan during the University of Michigan versus Michigan State University men’s basketball game on ESPN last month. The ad told viewers to call Stabenow and tell her to “put your country ahead of your party” and allow a vote on Gorsuch, The Detroit News reported

How much does Gorsuch reveal about his views?     

Gorsuch’s record shows very little, if anything, about where he stands on conservative issues like abortion rights and money in politics, while lawmakers could also press him on his position on gun rights.

Democrats will likely ask Gorsuch about whether he’d vote to overturn the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationally.

Some have said the book he wrote in 2006, “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia,” signals that Gorsuch is anti-abortion. 

In the book, Gorsuch premised the argument for retaining current laws that ban the practice “on the idea that all human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”

Gorsuch is also likely to be asked about his views on Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. 

Democrats have long pushed to overturn that 2010 Supreme Court decision, which struck down limits on corporate spending on political communications and campaign advertisements. 

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSenate Dems step up protests ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote Dem senator: Don't bet against McConnell on ObamaCare repeal MORE (D-N.Y.) compares Gorsuch to Chief Justice John Roberts, who was calm and careful when he answered questions during his confirmation process. 

But, Schumer said, Roberts went on to become one of the most activist justices the country has seen, voting with the conservative majority in cases like Citizen United.  

“When it comes to our experience with Judge Roberts, we will not be fooled again,” Schumer said at a press conference this week.  

“I voted against him the first time, but he fooled a lot of people that now regret voting for him.” 

Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinGraham gets frustrated in public ‘unmasking’ debate Dem senators urged Obama to take action on Russia before election Senate panel questions Lynch on alleged FBI interference MORE's (D-Calif.) office has in recent days also gone after Gorsuch on the issue of guns, with a release Friday highlighting what it called a "troubling record on gun safety."

The top Senate Judiciary Committee Democrat's office highlighted portions of past cases involving the possession of firearms for convicted felons or domestic violence abusers to label the judge a "pro-gun extremist."

Will Gorsuch give liberals any ammunition?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellGOP senator under impression Trump doesn't have clear understanding of healthcare bill: report The Memo: Trump faces enormous test with healthcare bill More than 300 abuse victim support groups oppose GOP healthcare bill MORE (R-Ky.) is confidant Gorsuch will get confirmed. 

“He’s very, very hard to oppose,” McConnell told Bret Baier during an appearance on Fox News’s "Special Report" last month. 

But Democrats will be looking for anything they can use against him. Question are likely to come about recent reports in The New York Times on Gorsuch’s ties to conservative billionaire Philip Anschutz and his work defending former President George W. Bush’s anti-terror policies. 

Will Gorsuch keep his composure? 

Both sides know that composure, style and tone all play into a nominee’s chances of winning confirmation. 

So far during the process, Gorsuch has been a model jurist. He’s calm, cool and collected.  

Democrats aiming to draw some emotion from him are likely to play up the human impact of his rulings. 

Schumer and Blumenthal held a press conference last week with people Gorsuch ruled against in three different cases while on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

In one case, he sided with a trucking company that fired a driver for abandoning his cargo after his truck broke down in freezing temperatures. In another case, Gorsuch ruled against a professor at the University of Kansas who was battling cancer. He said the school did not have to give her more than six months of sick leave under the Rehabilitation Act. 

He also wrote the majority opinion in a case that prevented a nurse from seeking compensation from Medtronics for injuries she claimed were caused by the company’s improper, off-label promotion of its Infuse bone-graft device.

Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings are expected to last three or four days. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleyOvernight Cybersecurity: New ransomware attack spreads globally | US pharma giant hit | House intel panel interviews Podesta | US, Kenya deepen cyber partnership GOP chairman wants 'robust' tax reform process in the Senate Senate Dems plan floor protest ahead of ObamaCare repeal vote MORE (R-Iowa) said members will hear opening statements from committee members and Gorsuch on Monday, then begin questioning him on Tuesday.