WASHINGTON ― Now that formalities and introductions are out of the way, Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s unflappable Supreme Court nominee, is expected to face up to 10 hours of questions from members of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.
Progressives are putting pressure on Democratic senators to deliver during these hearings. They’re demanding not just clear answers from Gorsuch on key issues facing the court, but also that their elected leaders do everything they can to keep him from taking the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gave the base exactly what it wanted, using his opening statement to lay out the themes that he hopes to explore at length when the real grilling begins.
“I hope whatever we may disagree about on this committee, we can at least agree that we can’t have a court where litigants in these 5-4 decisions can predict how they’ll do based on who they are,” Whitehouse told Gorsuch. “Here’s what it looks like now: If they’re big Republican election interests, they’ll win — every time. If they’re corporations against a human, they will win — every time. And your honor, every time seems like a lot.”
Whitehouse’s theme: Republican power grabs. And how the GOP and moneyed interests have placed all their firepower on Supreme Court nominations, because they know that an entrenched conservative majority has helped and will continue to help their party consolidate more political and economic power. All by a 5-to-4 margin in important decisions.
Gorsuch, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver, just sat there listening politely. But progressives are loving Whitehouse’s opening monologue. CREDO Action, an advocacy group that wants Democrats to oppose Gorsuch at all costs, made a social video about it on Monday and posted it to Facebook.
The banner at the top of the video? “Sen. Whitehouse demolishes Gorsuch.”
In a post on the social publishing platform Medium, Matthew Stoller, a fellow at New America who observes progressive politics and economic reform, said Whitehouse’s performance served as a potent counterpoint to progressives’ concern that “Democrats don’t have a message.”
“Whitehouse is a very smart lawyer,” Stoller wrote. “It is a BIG deal to have an elite credentialed legal thinker like Whitehouse saying what we all know, which is that the Supreme Court is at this point an entirely political and anti-democratic chokepoint meant to sustain Republican and big business dominance of American culture.”
Democrats are in the minority and may not win this fight. Gorsuch will likely studiously dodge questions on these subjects. But Whitehouse’s performance on Monday is precisely what their most ardent constituents want.
They want their senators to go to the mat ― and prove to the American public that the future of the high court, however neglected it may be on the list of priorities in the Trump era, is a fight worth fighting for.