Justice Antonin Scalia died nearly an entire year ago, yet Senate Republicans held the seat open for nearly all of 2016 in the hopes that Donald Trump would get to fill it. Now that Trump has named federal appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch as his nominee for that seat, however, Senate Republicans view confirming him as a matter of great urgency.
According to Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski, Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-IA) anticipates “a roughly six week timeline” for confirming Gorsuch, with only 3 days of confirmation hearings — only one of which will be used to ask questions of the nominee.
This departs sharply from past practice. Justice Elena Kagan had 4 days of hearings. Justice Sonia Sotomayor had 4 days of hearings. Justice Samuel Alito had 5 days of hearings. Chief Justice John Roberts had 4 days of hearings. Justice Stephen Breyer had 4 days of hearings. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had 4 days of hearings. Justice Clarence Thomas had 11 days of hearings.
Indeed, the only sitting justice to have only 3 days of hearings is Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was confirmed in 1987. But Kennedy was also a compromise nominee named by President Ronald Reagan after his original nominee was rejected by the Senate and his second choice withdrew his nomination.
The six week time frame is also quite unusual. Six weeks is 42 days. Justice Kagan was nominated on May 10, 2010 and confirmed on August 5, 2010 — a total of 87 days. Justice Sotomayor waited 73 days. Justice Alito waited 92 days. Chief Justice Roberts waited 72 days.
A possible explanation for the tight time frame is that six weeks would allow senators to vote on Gorsuch before the Senate’s Easter recess. Lawmakers in both parties have recently faced angry crowds at their constituent events from voters who believe that Republican plans need to be resisted.
Gorsuch voted to reduce access to birth control in the Hobby Lobby case, and his record suggests that he is a staunch opponent of abortion. He also is likely to limit federal agencies’ ability to make new rules protecting workers and the environment.