PORTLAND, Maine - Several hundred people turned out at Hannaford Hall on the University of Southern Maine campus Sunday evening for a "listening session" with independent Maine Sen. Angus King about the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. The crowd was so large that an overflow room had to be set up outside the auditorium.
King said he decided to hold the town hall-style meeting because there's so much interest in the nomination and because it's important since Gorsuch, at age 49, will potentially serve on the bench for 40 years if he's confirmed.
"We're getting a lot of calls and letters," King said. "And the hearing will be coming up in a couple of weeks and I just wanted to give people a chance either to make comments or ask questions...I think people like to be heard and this is a chance to get people in a live meeting to do that."
The meeting went on for four hours, with supporters and opponents lining up to share concerns,questions and advice for King about Gorsuch, who is a federal appellate judge in Colorado, and about President Donald Trump.
Several speakers urged King and the Senate to postpone hearings on the Gorsuch nomination until Trump produces his tax returns or until there's been an independent investigation into Trump's ties to Russia.
Others expressed concern about what they say is Judge Gorsuch's record for supporting corporate interests, for opposing LGBTQ rights and for statements that suggest he may be hostile to women and to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark Supreme Court decision that extended constitutional protections to a woman's decision to have an abortion.
Portland resident Margot Milliken, a board member of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, asked King how he planned to vet Judge Gorsuch's views on reproductive health. "If Judge Gorsuch does not clearly state a commitment to Roe v. Wade, will you vote against him?" Milliken wanted to know.
But Gorsuch supporters such as Frank Strickland of Brunswick say they have faith in the conservative nominee. "I do think the idea of him being a strict constitutionalist should be beneficial whether you're a person on the right or the left," Strickland said. "Because he would interpret the Constitution the way it was written, supporting the laws that were passed, not someone who creates law."
Judy Cosby Walker of Scarborough takes a slightly different view about Gorsuch's impartiality. "How can we ensure that the Supreme Court does not become another branch of government that threatens our democracy?" she asked.
King said he has not yet made up his mind about how he'll vote on the nomination. He said his decision will come down to several factors, including testimony he heard Sunday night, Gorsuch's record, an hour-long interview he had with him last week, and his upcoming confirmation hearing, which King says he will personally attend.
King did weigh in on the nomination by former President Barack Obama of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. That nomination was never considered, something several speakers said was unfair and which King agreed was "wrong."
In a written statement just before the listening session, Demi Kouzounas, the chair of Maine's Republican Party, urged King to work with senators on both sides of the aisle and to support an up-or-down vote for Judge Gorsuch. "Gorsuch is a mainstream conservative who has garnered praise from both sides of the aisle," she wrote. "In fact, even Democratic aides are saying Senate Democrats cannot block Gorsuch's nomination."
The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to hold a hearing on Gorsuch's nomination on March 20th.