By Lawrence Hurley
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Senate Democrats on Wednesday outlined how they will question Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch at his confirmation hearing next week over what they say is a pro-corporate bias in his rulings as an appeals court judge.
Democratic leader Chuck Schumer told reporters that the burden is on Gorsuch, a conservative appeals court judge from Colorado, to prove at the hearing starting on Monday that he is an independent judge and not a pro-business activist.
"Judge Gorsuch may act like a neutral, calm judge, but his record and his career clearly show he harbors a right-wing, pro-corporate, special-interest legal agenda," Schumer said.
Schumer appeared on Capitol Hill with several individual plaintiffs that Gorsuch ruled against in his position as a judge on the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
"He expresses a lot of empathy and sympathy for the less powerful," Schumer said, "but when it comes to time to rule, when the chips are down, far too often he sides with the powerful few over everyday Americans just trying to get a fair shake."
Conservative legal activists who support the nomination say that Democrats are cherry-picking a small number of rulings that distort Gorsuch's 11-year record as a judge.
President Donald Trump nominated Gorsuch on Jan. 31 to fill a yearlong vacancy on the nine-justice Supreme Court.
The Republican-controlled U.S. Senate has to approve the appointment for it to take effect. Last year they refused to consider Democratic former president Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy caused by the February 2016 death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.
Trump's fellow Republicans control the Senate 52-48, but Schumer repeated his view that Gorsuch would need to win 60 votes, rather than a simple majority, to move toward confirmation. Democrats can seek to use a procedural maneuver to block a confirmation vote if Gorsuch's supporters cannot muster 60 votes, although Republicans could change the Senate rules.
"If a nominee can’t get 60 votes, you don’t change the rules," Schumer said. "You change the nominee."
Among the plaintiffs who spoke out was truck driver Alphonse Maddin, who was fired after he disobeyed a supervisor and abandoned his trailer at the side of a road after the brakes froze. Gorsuch wrote a dissenting opinion as a three-judge panel ruled last year that Maddin was wrongly terminated and had to be reinstated with back pay.
"This was a seven-year battle," Maddin said. "Seven different judges heard my case. One of those judges found against me. That judge was Neil Gorsuch."
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)