Democrats question independence of Trump Supreme Court nominee

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By Lawrence Hurley | WASHINGTON

WASHINGTON Democratic U.S. senators on Monday
sharpened a potential line of attack against Neil Gorsuch’s
nomination to the Supreme Court by questioning whether he would
be sufficiently independent as a justice in light of President
Donald Trump’s vigorous use of unilateral presidential power
including his travel ban.

Their comments came after Trump criticized James Robart, the
U.S. district court judge who put on hold the Republican
president’s Jan. 27 order temporarily barring entry into the
United States of people from seven Muslim-majority nations and
halting the U.S. refugee program. Trump called Robart a “so-called judge” who made a “ridiculous” decision.

Democrats have expressed worry that Gorsuch, nominated by
Trump last week, could act as a rubber stamp for the Republican
president’s policies on a nine-seat Supreme Court poised to
revert to a conservative majority.

“It’s a serious concern with a president who attacks the
judiciary and seems to not respect the rule of law and the
Constitution that you have a really independent justice,” Senate
Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, set to meet with
Gorsuch on Tuesday, told Reuters.

Gorsuch, continuing a series of private meetings with
senators ahead of his Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings,
met on Monday with Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the
panel’s top Democrat, at her Senate office.

Afterward, she said Gorsuch is “clearly very smart, caring,
and he’s well thought of in Colorado,” where he serves as a
federal appeals court judge. But Feinstein said she will make up
her mind after the hearing about whether or not to support his
confirmation.

“What we would like to see is an independent judge, and the
hearing will determine that,” Feinstein told Reuters.

Gorsuch must be confirmed by the Senate to the lifetime post
on the high court.

“It’s incumbent upon Judge Gorsuch to make it clear to the
American people that he does not believe in ‘so-called judges,’
that he thinks it’s imperative that the judiciary has to be
respected as an independent one-third of our government,” said Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who unsuccessfully sought
the Democratic presidential nomination last year.

“I would look forward to hearing him speak out on that
issue,” Sanders added.

Conservative lawyers and Republican senators who are
favorable toward Gorsuch cite his record of supporting limited
federal powers and his skepticism about courts deferring too
much to executive branch interpretations of the law when issuing
regulations as signs he would be willing to stand up to Trump.

“I have zero concerns about his independence being
compromised,” said Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a Republican
who sits on the Judiciary Committee.

Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, another Republican, said
Gorsuch “has a trail of decisions and publications a mile long
that suggest how talented he is, that are instructive as to how
he would rule on any number of issues.”

With four liberals and four conservatives now on the court,
Gorsuch’s confirmation would restore the conservative majority
that had existed for decades until the death last year of
Justice Antonin Scalia.

Gorsuch’s supporters point in particular to a recent case in
which Gorsuch criticized a landmark high court ruling known as
Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council. That 1984 ruling
directed judges nationwide to defer to federal agencies’
interpretation of laws that may be ambiguous.

Gorsuch in a concurring opinion called that doctrine the “elephant in the room” that concentrates federal power “in a way
that seems more than a little difficult to square with the
Constitution.”

If Gorsuch is confirmed to serve on a court that would have
five conservatives and four liberals, Democrats have expressed
concern about setbacks for their positions on divisive issues
such as abortion, gun control, environmental regulation and
transgender rights. (Additional reporting by David Morgan and Richard Cowan)



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