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Confirmation hearings begin for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch of Colorado

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WASHINGTON — Judge Neil Gorsuch appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday for what is expected to be four days of hearings on his Supreme Court nomination.

If confirmed, Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Denver who lives in Boulder, is likely to carry on the conservative legacy of Justice Antonin Scalia and be an early legacy-establishing win for President Donald Trump.

The ninth seat on the bench has been vacant since Scalia’s sudden death in early 2016, and Democrats will also use the hearing to vent their anger once more of the Republican-controlled Senate not taking up President Barack Obama’s nominee, Merrick Garland, last year.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein started by saying she was “deeply disappointed” that Garland was passed over as a nominee.

Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, used his opening statement to decry “executive overreach” and expresses “alarm” over “the threat it poses to the separation of powers.”

Discussing the need for an independent jurist, Grassley said, “Good judges understand this. They know it isn’t their job to fix the law. In a democracy, that right belongs to be the people.”

Democrats will also use the hearing to go after Trump’s early actions such as his travel ban for people from seven — then revised to six — majority-Muslim countries, which has been blocked by federal courts from coast to coast.

The question, Feinstein said of Gorsuch, is “whether he will protect the legal and constitutional rights of all Americans.”

“President Trump repeatedly promised to appoint someone in the mold of Justice Scalia and that the nomination of Judge Gorsuch illustrates that he is a man of his word,” she said.

“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.”

Gorsuch’s nomination has flown under the radar in Washington as the focus has been on the litany of Trump actions such as the travel ban, budget proposal that would cut billions of dollars from agencies, executive orders and claims about Obama wiretapping Trump Tower.

At the same time, Republicans are pushing through legislation to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. About dozen people in the audience are wearing red “stop Gorsuch” shirts.

Each senator on the Judiciary Committee will speak Monday, followed by the two Colorado senators introducing Gorsuch, Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, as well as Neal Katyal, a former Obama acting solicitor general.

Gorsuch is expected to give his opening statement in midafternoon. He will face questions from senators Tuesday.

Grassley announced he expects a committee vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 3.