Neil Gorsuch Hearings Begin, Trump's Supreme Court Nominee Faces Questioning

Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump's nominee to fill Antonin Scalia's vacant position on the Supreme Court, begins his Senate confirmation hearings on Capitol Hill this week, where he's likely to face tough questions about his reliably conservative views.

As ABC News reports, the Gorsuch nomination brings with it some political baggage even before the toughest part of the process has even begun. Scalia's spot on the Supreme Court has remained vacant since he died at age 79 in February 2016. Then-President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to fill Scalia's spot, but Republicans famously refused to schedule hearings for him, citing Obama's last year in office and claiming that they would take up the process after the election, essentially killing Garland's nomination.

Now that the election has taken place and Trump has taken office, Gorsuch has been tapped for the seat. The stakes are high for Trump, and he faces tough questions in the Senate -- although he has plenty of Republican allies, too.

In his opening remarks, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley (Iowa), praised Gorsuch's record as a federal judge.

"Fortunately for every American, we have before us today a nominee whose body of professional work is defined by an unfailing commitment to these principles. His grasp on the separation of powers—including judicial independence—enlivens his body of work."
Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein (California), the committee's ranking member, acknowledge the specter of the Garland nomination hanging over Gorsuch's hearing.As CBS News notes, the 49-year-old Gorsuch has proven to be a reliable conservative throughout his career in law. Since 2006, he's sat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where his rulings, while not uniformly on the conservative side, do seem to suggest that Gorusch prefers to stick to a textualist interpretation of the Constitution.
"It seems to me than assiduous focus on text, structure, and history is essential to being a good judge."
Among Gorush's more noteworthy rulings is a 2014 opinion he wrote in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case involving the Affordable Care Act's (ACA's) contraception mandate. Hobby Lobby and other employers objected to the mandate, saying that being forced to pay for birth control violates their religious principles and thus, the Constitution's so-called "Free Exercise Clause," which prohibits the government from interfering in a person's private religious practices. In that ruling, Gorsuch came down on the side of religious freedom.
"The ACA's mandate requires them to violate their religious faith by forcing them to lend an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong."
However, in another noteworthy case -- United States v. Carlos -- Gorsuch ruled that police violated a person's Fourth Amendment rights to privacy when they entered a home with a "No Trespassing" sign posted.

Another ruling that may dog Gorsuch as he undergoes his confirmation hearings was a controversial ruling in the case of Michigan truck driver Alphonse Maddin. Maddin had been fired from his job as a truck driver after he disobeyed a supervisor's instructions and abandoned his truck on the side of the road. The brakes had frozen in sub-zero conditions, according to The Daily Mail, and Maddin appealed his firing. As his case made its way through the courts, Gorsuch issued a dissent focusing on semantics, according to Time.

"It might be fair to ask whether [Maddin's employer's] decision was a wise or kind one. But it's not our job to answer questions like that. Our only task is to decide whether the decision was an illegal one."
Senator Dick Durbin made sure to bring up that ruling, noting that Maddin had been stranded and sought safety in temperatures approaching -14 degrees.
"Not as cold as your dissent, Judge Gorsuch."
Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings are expected to last through this week.

[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]