Next week, Judge Neil Gorsuch will go before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for his confirmation hearings. As President Donald Trump’s nominee, will he stand with Trump on the most critical constitutional issues facing America today? These Nevadans seek answers, and they’re hoping Senators will ask tough questions.

Earlier yesterday, I spoke with U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D) at Facebook’s small business workshop in Las Vegas. She was already busy sifting through Trump’s budget proposal, which includes $120 million to revive the controversial Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump project that’s been dead since 2010. Cortez Masto voiced optimism on bipartisan efforts to defeat any attempt by the Trump Administration to spend federal tax dollars on storing nuclear waste at Yucca.

Photo by Andrew Davey

I asked her whether the potential of new Yucca Mountain litigation and/or the new temporary restraining order on “Muslim Ban 2.0” will affect her deliberations on Gorsuch. Cortez Masto simply stated she will be “watching and listening” closely as her colleagues on Senate Judiciary vet Neil Gorsuch. “I have no doubt that my colleagues will ask the tough questions.”

“The public deserves a better understanding on where [Gorsuch] stands.” – Senator Cortez Masto

While Cortez Masto signaled an open minded approach to considering Gorsuch’s nomination, she did note her concerns. She specifically mentioned one potential trouble point on Trump and Gorsuch.

“Donald Trump was looking for a nominee to overturn Roe v. Wade. […] He wants to roll back women’s rights to the dark ages.”

This issue came up again in the Nevada Legislature, when the Assembly Legislative Operations and Elections (LOE) Committee heard AJR 8. Lead sponsor Justin Watkins (D-Enterprise) had a very simple reason why he introduced this bill: “I’m here to put policy over politics.” He then explained how “the vote of the people” (as in the 1990 Question 7 abortion rights referendum) should matter to Nevada’s U.S. Senators as they consider Gorsuch for the nation’s highest court.

Photo by Andrew Davey

Just before the AJR 8 hearing, members of the Nevadans for Judicial Progress coalition gathered to demand Senators Cortez Masto and Dean Heller (R) take into account Nevadans’ views on women’s reproductive rights and several other issues. Battle Born Progress Executive Director Annette Magnus made clear their demands. “We need both of our Senators to speak out and be champions. […] Ask the important questions. Hold Judge Gorsuch accountable.”
Hardeep Sull from the American Immigration Lawyers Association noted Gorsuch has heard few immigration cases during his tenure. However, she found issues for concern in his overall record. “We’re concerned Gorsuch will protect corporate interests over the immigrant community.” She specifically cited Gorsuch’s opposition to the Chevron Doctrine, a standard federal courts have been applying for over thirty years that gives deference to relevant federal agencies’ interpretations of statutes.
Nevada Conservation League Executive Director Andy Maggi further explained that the Chevron Doctrine ensures that “government agencies with expertise have the primary responsibility to interpret laws and give guidance to courts” where judges may not be very familiar with a certain subject. This is particularly relevant to environmental law.
Gorsuch has a lengthier environmental record, one that concerns advocates like Maggi. “Time and time again, he’s ruled in favor of big polluters over public health.”

“Gorsuch has never shown he can stand with the people.” – Nevada Conservation League’s Andy Maggi

Can Judge Gorsuch change this perception next week? He can probably begin by answering the questions Nevadans have on various matters that will likely appear in the U.S. Supreme Court (again) soon. Confirmation hearings begin next Monday.