Judge Neil Gorsuch emphasized "the importance of an independent judiciary" on Monday in opening remarks to a Senate Judiciary Committee bitterly divided over his nomination to the Supreme Court, reports the AP. He also tried to make clear that he's a mainstream judge, per the Washington Post. "My decisions have never reflected a judgment about the people before me—only my best judgment about the law and facts at issue in each particular case," said Gorsuch, President Trump's pick to fill the vacancy created 13 months ago by the death of Antonin Scalia. Gorsuch, 49, who currently serves on the Denver-based 10th US Circuit Court of Appeals, spoke to the committee after hours of opening statements from senators revealed deep partisan divides. (Questioning of Gorsuch begins Tuesday.)
Democrats condemned Republicans for refusing to act on Barack Obama's nominee last year, while Republicans accused Democrats of trying to turn Gorsuch's confirmation hearing into a referendum on the president. "The nominee before us today is not President Trump," said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-NC. The hearing unfolded as another Gorsuch story made headlines. One of his former law students wrote a letter to the panel saying that Gorsuch accused women of deceiving employers by accepting a job solely for maternity benefits, then having a baby and leaving. She said he in April 2016 asked students to raise their hands if they knew of this first-hand, adding, "Come on, guys. All of your hands should be up. Many women do this," per NPR. Since the story surfaced, other students have come to Gorsuch's defense, saying the incident had been mischaracterized.