STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
On this Monday, the United States Senate begins a constitutional process. The Senate is to advise and consent on presidential nominees for top government posts. And a hearing begins today for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch. President Trump named him to a seat left open when Republicans in the Senate declined to consider President Obama's nominee for the same seat last year, a seat once held by the late Antonin Scalia. No Senate Judiciary Committee member has vetted more high court nominees than Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, who has been present as Supreme Court fights have become more partisan.
How broken is the process for confirming judges and justices right now?
ORRIN HATCH: I don't think the process is broken. The question is, will the Democrats be willing to support this really excellent candidate?
INSKEEP: And his qualifications have been praised. But of course, some of your Democratic colleagues will say, why do we have to move on him?
HATCH: (Laughter) Well, keep in mind that if you were to look all over this country for the best possible person to take Justice Scalia's seat, you'd pick Neil Gorsuch. I think almost anybody would do that, whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. Gorsuch has a terrific reputation both in his practice and government work and also as a judge where he's been with the 10th Circuit for a number of years.
INSKEEP: Some people listening will wonder, how do his qualifications compare to Merrick Garland?
HATCH: Well, they're every bit as good if not better. Now, he's more conservative. But I have to say that the other judge is a very good judge, too. The other judge is more liberal, and he's more federal government-oriented than Gorsuch is. Gorsuch can understand that sometimes it's good to have the states have some power.
INSKEEP: So let me ask if you can address something here about the process. You know that Democrats were very unhappy that President Obama made a Supreme Court nomination last year and Republicans declined to give him a hearing. We have heard, of course, the Republican explanation that it was an election year. But I wonder if I can get you to speak to people who've heard those arguments and just think there has been an injustice here. Why should a Democrat who feels that way give a fair hearing to Neil Gorsuch and not block Senate confirmation?
HATCH: Well, first of all, from the whole history of the country, almost everybody has indicated there should not be a confirmation of a judge during a presidential election year. Joe Biden made that point. You know, this is not unusual. The Democrats were the ones that basically established that particular principle.
INSKEEP: But can you give Democrats who interpret the history differently a reason that they should move forward? Is there a reason it is important for the country that they should look past whatever they believe was wrong in the past?
HATCH: Well, of course. It's important that we have a judge on that Supreme Court that is - now just has eight judges, where cases cannot be soundly brought to fruition. But I think the point is is that everybody believed that Hillary was probably going to win. And then all of a sudden, Donald Trump wins. And now just because it's Trump, it shouldn't make any difference. We should go ahead, and it'll Trump's choice.
INSKEEP: You mentioned that if you compared Merrick Garland and Judge Gorsuch and how they each might be as a Supreme Court justice, that Judge Gorsuch might end up giving a little more power to the states. That's where his opinions, judicial opinions...
HATCH: That's right.
INSKEEP: ...Would tend to lead.
INSKEEP: Can you expand on that a little bit? If Judge Gorsuch is on the bench and his view of the law prevails more often than not, how would the country be different a few years from now?
HATCH: Well, the fact of the matter is that he actually believes that there's a real reason for federalism. There are certain things that only the federal government should determine, and then there are many, many things that the states should determine. And Gorsuch understands that there's an important role for the states to play as well.
INSKEEP: What is a right or a power that some states want or are seeking that you could imagine could end up before the Supreme Court in years to come?
HATCH: Well, there are a lot of powers that could be determined one way or the other. Take my state - home state of Utah. We'd like to have control of our own lands and, in some ways, would like to take the power of the federal government away. And we think that that's probably more in keeping with what the founding fathers put together in the Constitution itself. So there is a difference in philosophy. In the case of Neil Gorsuch, I think you'll find that he will do whatever the law requires. If the federal government should win, they'll win. If the states should win, they'll win.
INSKEEP: There's also a divide between Congress, which passes laws of course, and federal agencies, which establish regulations to enact those laws. Our colleague Nina Totenberg reported the other day on the program that Gorsuch, in some cases, has appeared to have a fairly restrictive view of what federal regulators can do and what they can get away with. How do you see that?
HATCH: Well, I don't think it's a restrictive view. I think it's an accurate view that there are certain things the federal government should not meddling in and should not be telling the states what to do. And there are certain things where the federal government should be the sole determination too. One of the problems that we have with Democrats is that they believe the federal government should triumph in everything. But in most cases, the states should have the right to govern themselves.
INSKEEP: Oh, but I'm thinking about the difference between Congress passing laws and, say, the Environmental Protection Agency writing regulations that they say would be to enact the laws. Would Gorsuch be less willing to give the EPA, for example, latitude in regulations that it was writing to protect the environment?
HATCH: Well, I don't think anybody knows. But I think he would certainly draw the line that there are certain areas that the federal government should not be intruding into. And there are certain areas that are the federal government's jurisdiction. I think Gorsuch would at least be open to state control in some ways where, I have to say, that most Democrat appointees are not.
INSKEEP: Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, thanks very much.
HATCH: You bet. Nice talking to you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.