Highlights of Day 1 of Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Gorsuch

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 4:03 PM
Updated: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 4:03 PM

Gorsuch hearing

As the central figure in one of the most contentious confirmation hearings in years, U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said Monday judges should not be “secret legislators” and vowed to apply the law in an impartial fashion while seeking consensus whenever possible.

Appearing before enthusiastic Republicans and skeptical Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch portrayed himself as an independent voice modeled after former Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Robert Jackson, declaring Jackson “reminded us that when you become a judge, you fiercely defend only one client – the law.”

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“These days we sometimes hear judges cynically described as politicians in robes, seeking to enforce their own politics rather than striving to apply the law impartially,” Gorsuch said in his opening statement. “If I thought that were true, I’d hang up the robe.”

“If judges were just secret legislators -- declaring not what the law is, but what they would like it to be -- the very idea of a government by the people and for the people would be at risk,” Gorsuch said. “And those who came before the court would live in fear, never sure exactly what the law requires of them it except for the judge’s will.”

Gorsuch, who faces two days of questioning Tuesday and Wednesday by committee members, clearly used his opening statement to assuage Democratic fears that he is an implacable conservative while simultaneously trying to establish his independence, a way to distance himself from President Donald Trump, who nominated him last month to fill the seat left vacant by the death last year of Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative icon for the past three decades.

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Gorsuch, 49, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Colorado, delivered his 15-minute statement after sitting through more than three hours of deeply partisan opening statements from committee members.

Senate Democrats, backed by progressive legal organizations, have sharply complained that Republicans unfairly kept the seat open when they refused last year to hold a hearing for federal appeals Judge Merrick Garland, nominated by former President Barack Obama.

But they also made clear their anger is directed against Trump, with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., saying the “independence of those judges has never been more threatened and never more important, and a large part of the threat comes from the man who nominated you who has launched a campaign of vicious and relentless attacks" on the judiciary.

“Just hours ago, not far from here, the director of the FBI revealed that his agency is investigating potential ties between President Trump’s associates and Russian meddling in our election," Blumenthal said.

He warned of “the possibility" that he Supreme Court might need "to enforce a subpoena against the president is no longer idle speculation,” pointing to the court’s 1974 case directing President Richard M. Nixon to yield White House taped recordings demanded by special prosecutors investigating the Watergate scandal.

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Gorsuch listened attentively through opening statements by committee members, often jotting down notes on a yellow legal pad. When it came time for him to speak, he did so in a clear, but soothing voice.

Rather than accepting the challenge from Senate Democrats, he steered clear of ideological labels and said “putting on” a judge’s black robe “reminds us judges that it’s time to lose our egos and open our minds."

“It’s for this body -- the people’s representatives -- to make new laws, for the executive to make sure those laws are faithfully executed, and for neutral and independent judges to apply the law in the people’s disputes,” Gorsuch said.

He suggested his judicial style was closer to White and Justice Anthony Kennedy, both of whom he clerked for when they were on the high court in the 1980s, pointedly saying Kennedy “showed me that judges can disagree without being disagreeable.”

By doing so, Gorsuch was doing his best to describe his role as limited to interpreting the law, much like Chief Justice John Roberts did during his confirmation hearings in 2005 when he told the same committee that “judges are like umpires. Umpires don't make the rules; they apply them.”

Reminding lawmakers that he grew up in Colorado, he said “in the West, we listen to one another respectfully. We tolerate. We cherish different points of view. And we seek consensus whenever we can.”

Because five current members of the court support abortion rights and same-sex marriage, Gorsuch will not change the balance of power on those key questions. But on a host of other issues, such as whether judges should grant broad authority to federal agencies to interpret laws approved by Congress, Gorsuch could emerge as a key vote.

Portman: Pelosi & Schumer’s DACA meeting with President Trump ‘helpful’

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:26 AM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 11:28 AM


            Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speaks with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 14, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said a recent meeting between President Trump and top Democrats over the immigration provision known as DACA was “helpful.”

MORE: Portman, internet companies differ over sex trafficking approach

Trump met with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., earlier this month. After the meeting, the two Democrats announced a deal with the president that would include border security, but no wall.

“Frankly, I think the meeting the other night with President Trump and the Democratic leaders was helpful,” Portman said in an interview at the Dayton Daily News offices. “Some Republicans thought it wasn’t good he was meeting with them, I think it’s fine, because I think that’s how you get an agreement at the end of the day.”

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“I think the agreement is going to be making DACA permanent so these kids that came here through no fault of their own before the age of 16 will be able to stay,” Portman said.

DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — was created under President Obama in 2012. DACA allowed children brought to the U.S. illegally to apply for the right to live, work and go to school. If approved, deportation was deferred for at least two years, with a chance to renew the legal status.

MORE: Area ‘dreamer’ rallies support DACA after Trump announcement

Portman said Obama’s policy change was “not within his rights as an executive.” Portman also said he believes legislation on DACA will be coupled with border protection and other enforcement.

“It will be coupled with additional enforcement, and let’s face it there’s a lot of opportunities there,” Portman said. “I’d like to do better enforcement in the workplace, where it’s like a sieve. People have fake documents and they can get jobs.”

Staff Writer Max Filby and News Center 7’s Jim Otte contributed reporting.

In United Nations speech, President Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea over nukes

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 10:48 AM

In his first address to the United Nations, President Donald Trump vowed that the United States would ‘totally destroy’ North Korea if that regime seeks to use its nuclear weapons against America or its allies, as Mr. Trump singled out North Korea, Iran, Syria, Cuba and Venezuela in a wide ranging address to the U.N. General Assembly.

In blunt terms, the President zeroed in on North Korea, labeling it a “depraved” regime, referring to its leader as “Rocket Man,” as Mr. Trump said the United Nations must join together to stop the nuclear ambitions of Kim Jong Un.

“Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and his regime,” Mr. Trump declared, making clear the U.S. would not ignore provocations by the Pyongyang regime.

“If it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” the President said.

On Iran, Mr. Trump said the Iran nuclear deal brokered by the Obama Administration and other American allies was an “embarrassment,”

Sen. Portman takes on sex trafficking: What’s really going on?

Published: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 9:11 AM
Updated: Tuesday, September 19, 2017 @ 9:11 AM


            Sen. Rob Portman met with Dayton Daily News and WHIO reporters and editors on Monday. Photo by Eric Dietrich
Sen. Rob Portman met with Dayton Daily News and WHIO reporters and editors on Monday. Photo by Eric Dietrich

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, says sex trafficking is a national stain and hopes his new bill will stop internet sites from enabling traffickers.

MORE: Portman, internet companies differ over sex trafficking approach

But the bill has come across opposition from the group representing Facebook, Google and dozens more of the largest internet companies.

A hearing on the bill is scheduled for Tuesday. Here are three big things to know about Portman’s bill.

1. Backpage, one of the world’s largest classified advertising websites, has successfully defended itself in a spate of lawsuits from parents of children trafficked on the site. Backpage successfully argued that they are protected by a provision of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that protects internet publishers from content created by users.

This year, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which Portman chairs, released a report which charged that Backpage published the ads after deleting certain words and content that suggests it involves a child. The effort sanitized the ads while allowing them to be posted on the website, according to the report.

MORE: Report says child sex ads pushed through Backpage

2. Portman says his Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act is the solution for holding internet wrongdoers accountable.

“We have to say that there will be, under what’s called the Communications Decency Act, a change that says if you knowingly facilitate, support or assist sex trafficking, you are liable,” Portman said Monday in an interview at the Dayton Daily News’ offices.

It does so by allowing victims of sex trafficking to take websites that enable sex trafficking to court; by eliminating federal liability protections for websites that assist, support or facilitate a violation of federal sex trafficking laws and by allowing state police — not just the Department of Justice — to crack down on people or businesses that violate federal sex trafficking laws.

MORE: Portman going after website accused of aiding sex trafficking

3. The group representing Facebook, Google and dozens more of the largest internet companies will testify in opposition to Portman’s bill, according to an advance copy of the testimony given to the Dayton Daily News before the Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Internet Association says Portman’s well-intentioned Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act would hold internet sites potentially liable for sex trafficking on their sites, even if the website has no knowledge it is doing so or any practical way of stopping it.

Portman disagrees, calling the opposition “ridiculous.”

Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the information technology solutions arm of the former Hewlett-Packard Conpany, endorsed Portman’s legislation Monday.

“As an industry-leading, global technology company that has long taken a stand against forced labor and human trafficking, and has made it a priority to protect and elevate vulnerable worker groups, we believe the technology sector has a responsibility to help policymakers and law enforcement combat illicit and criminal activity on the internet, especially sex trafficking,” wrote John F. Schultz, the company’s general counsel.

Staff Writer Jessica Wehrman contributed reporting from Washington.

Bill would allow kids to keep health coverage at least through 2019

Published: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 6:01 PM
Updated: Monday, September 18, 2017 @ 6:01 PM


            Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is co-sponsor of a bill that would keep funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) intact for at least two years. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
            Pablo Martinez Monsivais
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, is co-sponsor of a bill that would keep funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) intact for at least two years. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)(Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Ohio would not face any federal financial cutbacks for federal children’s health insurance during the next two years if Congress approves a bipartisan compromise bill unveiled Monday.

The $9 billion measure, which would re-authorize for five years the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), would allow at least 210,000 low-income children in Ohio to keep their coverage through the end of 2019.

If the Senate and House approve the bill, the federal government would continue to pay 97 percent of Ohio’s costs to maintain the program before declining to 85 percent in 2020 and 74 percent in 2021 and 2022.

RELATED: Ohio senator predicts child insurance approval

That means state lawmakers in Columbus will have to find the extra money by 2020 to keep the program at its current rate.

Before passage of the 2010 health law known as Obamacare, the federal government provided 74 percent of the costs of Ohio’s children’s insurance program. The 2010 law boosted that percentage to 97 percent, but the higher federal payments are scheduled to end by next week unless Congress acts.

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In a statement, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio — one of the bill’s co-sponsors — said the bipartisan measure would give “Ohio families the assurance that their children’s healthcare will be protected for years to come.”

The Senate Finance Committee, whose members include Brown and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio, is expected to pass the bill and send it to the Senate floor. Portman has indicated he will support the measure.

CHIP was created in 1997 as a way to reduce the number of low-income children without health coverage.