The U.S. Senate is holding its first confirmation hearing Monday for Neil Gorsuch, the judge nominated by President Donald Trump to fill a long vacancy on the Supreme Court.
In a day of lengthy opening statements, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley lauded Gorsuch as a brilliant and capable jurist.
“You should be concerned about the preservation of our constitutional order and, most importantly, the separation of powers,” he said. “We have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles.”
Democrats are still fuming that Republicans held the seat vacant by refusing to give former President Barack Obama’s nominee a hearing. Senator Dianne Feinstein said there is much that Gorsuch, a conservative, must speak to in the days ahead.
“Our job is to assess how this nominee’s decisions will impact the American people, and whether he will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans, not just the wealthy and the powerful,” she said.
The court has been one short of its nine justices since Antonin Scalia died in February 2016.
After opening statements Monday, Gorsuch will face questions Tuesday and Wednesday, and the hearings are due to end Thursday with comments from outsiders.
Republicans hold a 52-48 majority in the Senate. Democrats could attempt to block the Gorsuch nomination with a tactic known as the filibuster, which would require 60 votes to approve the new justice. However, it is not clear if they would do so, and Republicans could change Senate rules to require only a simple-majority vote for confirmation.
If confirmed, Gorsuch would restore the 5-4 conservative majority on the court that was in place before Scalia’s death.
Gorsuch has been through the confirmation process before. In 2006, the Senate confirmed him to a seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Before that, he was a high-ranking official in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. He also spent time in the early 1990s as clerk for Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.