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Congress

Democrats, Republicans complain about partisanship in Gorsuch's confirmation hearing

Both Democrats and Republicans grumbled about partisanship during the Senate confirmation hearing of Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.

Judge Neil Gorsuch arrives for the first day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.
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Judge Neil Gorsuch arrives for the first day of his Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill March 20, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee used their opening statements to reflect on better days where judicial appointees were measured by merit and not their ideological leanings.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said he voted for the confirmation of Barack Obama's nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, because they were both highly qualified and led "exemplary lives."

Graham argued that Gorsuch is "every bit as qualified." The South Carolina Republican said he has yet to hear a Democrat prove that Gorsuch is not suitable for the job.

Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the committee, said Gorsuch's record demonstrates "an unfailing commitment" to the "constitutional order and the separation of powers." Judicial independence is one of the ideals that "enlivens [Gorsuch's] body of work," Grassley said in his opening statement Monday.

While Republicans called on Democrats to put country above party and confirm Gorsuch, the Democrats similarly accused the GOP of partisanship in their refusal to confirm Obama's nominee Merrick Garland.

Ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein began her opening statement by slamming the GOP for their "unprecedented treatment" of Garland, who was denied a confirmation hearing. Feinstein, a Democrat from California, described Garland as a mainstream moderate nominee.

"For those of us on this side, our job is not to theoretically evaluate this or that legal doctrine or to review Judge Gorsuch's record in a vacuum. Our job is to determine whether Judge Gorsuch is a reasonable mainstream conservative or is he not," Feinstein said Monday.

Other Democrats on the committee echoed Feinstein's comments, repeatedly bringing up how Republicans stymied Garland's nomination. Democrats also raised concerns about how a conservative majority on the Supreme Court would allegedly favor big businesses at the expense of individuals.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse spent much of his opening statement characterizing what he called a "5 to 4 rampage" or "5 to 4 shopping spree" in which conservative judges ruled in favor of business interests. The Democratic from Rhode Island highlighted the landmark Citizens United decision which nullified federal laws nullified federal laws limiting corporate and union contributions to political campaigns.

Gorsuch served as an appeals judge for the 10th Circuit in Colorado. At 49, he is among the youngest Supreme Court nominees ever and could have a strong presence on the court for decades.

Even before President Donald Trump made his choice, senators set the stage for the second straight year of partisan clashes over the seat, left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump has said Gorsuch, who cites Scalia as an inspiration, "has outstanding legal skills, a brilliant mind, tremendous discipline and has earned bipartisan support."

Conservatives have praised Gorsuch for what they say is the application of the theory of judicial overreach on religious issues, such as when he ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, a company that opposed parts of the Affordable Care Act that compelled coverage of contraception. In statements praising him after the nomination, key Republican lawmakers also highlighted what they called his close reading of text of the law.

— CNBC's Jacob Pramuk contributed to this report.

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