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Confirmation Hearing Begins For Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch


And now we are joined by NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. She watched the hearing today. Hi there, Nina.


MCEVERS: So we just heard a little bit from the hearing, but what was it like to be there in the room?

TOTENBERG: Well, this may have been Judge Gorsuch's day, but another judge haunted this hearing room. And of course that was President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. For nearly a year, Senate Republicans refused to give him a hearing, refused for the most part to meet with him and refused to give him an up or down vote. And Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said since then that this blockade was the most consequential thing that he did as majority leader in the last Congress.

The maneuver of course outraged Democrats, as was clear today in the opening statements on the Democratic side. Here, for instance, is Senator Patrick Leahy, the Senate's longest-serving member.


PATRICK LEAHY: This was an extraordinary blockade. It was totally unprecedented in our country's whole history. Some liken it to the action of the tyrannical kings who claim that they have sole control.

TOTENBERG: And here's Democratic Whip Dick Durbin.


DICK DURBIN: Those of us on the Democratic side, as you can hear, are frequently warned not to let politics to be part of this decision. When I consider the path to this historic hearing, this plea rings hallow.

TOTENBERG: It wasn't until this afternoon that Democratic Senator Michael Bennet poured some cooler water on the Democratic fury voiced by some of his colleagues. He of course represents Judge Gorsuch and the state of Colorado. And Bennet gave a glowing summary of Gorsuch's professional life, of his family life in Colorado going back to Gorsuch's two grandfathers, one of whom paid his way through law school by working as a conductor on a streetcar, and a grandmother who was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Denver in the 1920s.

MCEVERS: But then Bennet admitted that he hasn't yet made up his mind about whether or not he's going to support Gorsuch's nomination. Is that Senate courtesy?

TOTENBERG: Not exactly, but it is Senate courtesy to introduce a nominee from your home state who's been nominated to the Supreme Court. Bennet acknowledged that it's tempting to oppose Gorsuch simply because of the Republicans' treatment of Garland, but, he added...


MICHAEL BENNET: Two wrongs never make a right. The Supreme Court is too important for us not to find a way to end our destructive gridlock and bitter partisanship.

MCEVERS: So then at the end of the day, we got to the main event. What stuck out for you in Judge Gorsuch's opening statement to the committee?

TOTENBERG: Well, candidly, there was a lot in the 16-minute opening statement that we had already heard on the night that Gorsuch was nominated by President Trump. And there was a lot that was clearly put in at an attempt to humanize him. I'll let you judge for yourself whether it sounded hokey or not.


NEIL GORSUCH: To my teenage daughter watching out West, bathing chickens for the county fair, devising ways to keep our determined pet goat out of the garden, building a semi-functional ply-board hovercraft for science fair...

TOTENBERG: And then there was the moment when Judge Gorsuch said to his wife, I love you, and turned around in his witness chair to hug her in the middle of the hearing room with dozens of photographers clicking away - a little reminiscent of Al and Tipper Gore's convention kiss - more modest, I would say, but equally awkward.

MCEVERS: So what should we expect tomorrow?

TOTENBERG: Well, we're starting at 9:30 Eastern Time, and we'll be live with special coverage on many NPR stations and liveblogging on our digital page. Each senator gets a half hour on the first round, 20 minutes on the second round. And there are 20 members on the committee, so you figure it out. We'll either be there until midnight, or we'll be there again Wednesday morning.

MCEVERS: That's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg. Thank you so much.

TOTENBERG: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.