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Connect to Congress: Countdown to Gorsuch confirmation hearings

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FILE - In this Feb. 14, 2017, file photo, Supreme Court Justice nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch meets with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) - On Monday the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee will begin public hearings regarding the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Gorsuch, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, was nominated by President Donald Trump back in January. The ninth seat on the high court's bench has been vacant for over a year, due to Associate Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February 2016.

Since his nomination, Gorsuch has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill, meeting with members of the U.S. Senate from both parties.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles "Chuck" Grassley, R-Iowa, expects Gorsuch will make a good impression.

"He’s very, very intelligent, very, very thoughtful, writes very well and very precisely," Grassley said in a one-on-one interview with Sinclair Broadcast Group. "But I think the most important thing beyond that is what he stated when President Trump announced it, he said judges are supposed to judge and legislators are supposed to legislate."

Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are worried, however, that Gorsuch may not live up to his own words.

"The president who nominated him established a litmus test," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., told Sinclair at a press conference Wednesday. "That litmus test required him to be anti-women’s health, anti-choice, pro-guns or anti-gun violence measures, and of a conservative bend."

There's also lingering anger over the Senate GOP's refusal to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and former President Barack Obama's pick for the vacancy.

"The Merrick Garland history shadows this nominee because the reasons for preventing Merrick Garland going on the court have to do with special-interest politics," Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., member of the Judiciary Committee, said. "It’s not really [Gorsuch's] fault that he was chosen, but it’s a powerful signal of the play of special interests in this nomination."

Grassley says his decision to not fully consider Garland was a fair one.

"Everybody thought that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States. I said, if I'm chairman of the committee, we're going to move the nominee for the next president of the United States. So, I'm keeping my word," Grassley stated.

Democrats on the committee have also said their feelings on the Garland treatment as well as any reservations against Gorsuch on ideological grounds shouldn't affect the tone of the proceedings.

"I’m going to be asking tough and aggressive questions," Blumenthal said. "I know my colleagues will as well, but it won’t be an interrogation. It will be respectful."

Grassley added that Gorsuch will be able to take anything the committee throws at him, predicting, "I expect his discipline of how he handles himself in a very fair, but more importantly knowledgeable way that I think is going to bring other people around to being less political."

Grassley says the hearings will span Monday through Thursday next week.

On Monday the 20-member Senate Judiciary Committee and Gorsuch will make their opening statements.

Tuesday and Wednesday the nominee will face multiple rounds of questioning from committee members, much of it based on the questionnaires and documents Gorsuch had to file with the committee prior to the hearing date.

On Thursday the American Bar Association will testify why it gave Gorsuch a "well qualified" rating.

Also on Thursday dozens of other witnesses - some representing organizations and others representing themselves - will testify both on behalf Gorsuch as well as against his nomination to the court.

Grassley believes once the hearings are complete, Gorsuch will be confirmed and in place in about a month.

"I hope no later than Saturday, April 8 he will be confirmed, and then in a few days sworn in and probably will be on the court for the last few cases that they have to hear between now and their adjournment, the last week of June," Grassley said.

But as of now, the nominee will need a 60-vote, filibuster proof majority - known as the cloture rule - to take the bench and there are only 52 Republicans in the Senate.

"There's an important question that Republicans have to answer, which is do they intend to break the cloture rule on this nominee?" Whitehouse asked

Trump has already publicly mentioned that Senate GOP leaders should consider the so-called "nuclear option," requiring a simple 51-vote majority in the 100-member body to confirm Gorsuch if the Senate cannot reach the 60-vote threshold.

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