Feinstein labels Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch an 'extremist'

2017-03-20 | San Francisco Chronicle

March 20--As Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faces his Senate confirmation hearings, Sen. Dianne Feinstein is labeling him an extremist on such issues as worker protections and reproductive rights.

As a federal appeals court judge, Gorsuch "has consistently sided with employers and corporate interests," Feinstein, D-Calif., said Friday in her first critical comments on President Trump's selection. She said Gorsuch's record on cases involving birth control and Planned Parenthood showed that Trump was keeping his promise to choose a "pro-life extremist."

The Senate Judiciary Committee, on which Feinstein is the highest-ranking Democrat, begins hearings Monday on Trump's nomination of Gorsuch to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia. The Republican-controlled Senate refused last year to consider President Barack Obama's nomination of appeals court Judge Merrick Garland to succeed Scalia, who died in February 2016.

Gorsuch, a judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver since 2005, is a professed admirer of Scalia, who was the court's most outspoken conservative. Republicans are hoping to sway at least eight Democrats or independents to back his confirmation and thwart a possible filibuster.

On cases affecting workers, Feinstein cited Gorsuch's dissenting vote in favor of a trucking company that fired a trucker for driving off in his cab to find help after being stranded for hours in freezing weather that had disabled the brakes on his trailer. She noted another case in which he wrote a ruling upholding a university's refusal to provide more than six months of sick leave for a cancer-stricken teacher.

Gorsuch also ruled in favor of the religious rights of a corporation, the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain, allowing it to deny contraceptive coverage to its female employees, a ruling later upheld by the Supreme Court. Feinstein said it illustrated his approach to issues of both workers' rights and birth control.

She also cited his dissenting vote in 2015 in a case that would have allowed the governor of Utah to block funding to Planned Parenthood, a funding freeze that would be partially imposed at the federal level by the health care bill backed by Trump and Republican leaders.

On another issue, Feinstein criticized him for his hostility to the Supreme Court's long-standing doctrine of deferring to government agencies' interpretations of unclear federal laws. He has called the doctrine a violation of the constitutional separation of powers.

She said he could also further weaken the tottering government regulations of political campaign financing. In a 2014 opinion, Gorsuch called the act of contributing to campaigns "a basic constitutional freedom" entitled to the highest level of constitutional protection.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @egelko