Neil Gorsuch Speaks Out About Merrick Garland For The First Time

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Though the first day got somewhat drowned out by the dramatic House Intelligence Committee testimony of FBI director James Comey, the second day of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearings on Tuesday included some memorable moments. As senators grilled him on a range of issues, one particular moment surely stood out to both Democrats and progressives. Gorsuch spoke out about Merrick Garland, the man whose Supreme Court nomination was handed to the 49-year-old conservative judge instead.

Garland, 64, was (and still is) a thoroughly respected jurist cut from a reasonably moderate cloth. He sailed through his 1997 Senate confirmation vote to join the federal bench by a final tally of 76-23, earning plaudits from Republicans along the way. But then, 19 years later, some of those same senators embraced his unprecedented freezing-out, which ultimately led to Gorsuch getting the nod more than a year later after Trump was elected president.

It's not hard to see why Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy was curious how Gorsuch felt about the whole thing. In fact, back in 2002, Gorsuch wrote a column praising Garland as an "impressive" judge who was "grossly mistreated" by the Senate for having the courage to rule on "hot-button" issues. So, where does he stand now that he's the beneficiary of that kind of mistreatment? He isn't as straightforward about his views now — at least when it comes to partisan political matters — as he was back then.

Here's how Gorsuch replied when Leahy asked if he believed Garland was treated "fairly" by the Senate judicial committee:

Senator, as I explained to you before, I can't get involved in politics. There's judicial canons that prevent me from doing that, and I think it would be very imprudent of judges to start commenting on political disputes between themselves, or the various branches.

Still, Gorsuch also stated that whenever he sees an opinion with Garland's name on it, he reads it "with special care," calling him "an outstanding judge."

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Gorsuch is widely expected to be confirmed for the Supreme Court, and there's no guarantee how strong a fight the Democrats will put up in opposition. If they were to filibuster Gorsuch, it's possible that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could move to abolish the filibuster for Supreme Court nominations, a move that the Democrats are keen to avoid.

Needless to say, a lot of senators have some heavy decisions on their hands right now.