President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on Tuesday assured the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that he would remain independent of outside influence and would not pre-judge cases, side with one party based on ideology, or allow any of his personal preferences or loyalties to surface in his courtroom.
“They gave me a gavel, not a rubber stamp,” he said of his appointment to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals a decade ago.
He also repeatedly affirmed his independence could extend to ruling against a president who appointed him.
“Nobody is above the law, and that includes the president,” he said.
That line surfaced several times during the course of the questions, including once when Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a longtime member of the GOP elite in Washington, raised the question of impeaching Trump.
“In case President Trump is watching, which he may very well be, one, you did a good job picking Judge Gorsuch,” Graham said, “No. 2 … if you start waterboarding people, you may get impeached. Is that a fair summary?”
Gorsuch said the power of impeachment belongs to the U.S. Senate.
“That’s even better,” Graham replied. “Would he be subject to prosecution?”
“Senator, I’m not going to speculate,” Gorsuch responded.
“But he’s not above the law,” Graham replied.
“No man is above the law,” Gorsuch said. “No man.”
Gorsuch refused repeated attempts by Democrats to draw him into making statements on pending cases or disputes, such as Trump’s temporary travel restriction.
“I can’t get involved in politics,” he said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearings, which opened Monday, are expected to continue through the week.
On Monday, Democrats opened their attacks with a heavy dose of politics.
Gorsuch said he would consider the “law and the facts at issue in each particular case.”
He repeated that statement over and over Tuesday when Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., repeatedly tried to draw him into giving his opinion on a law, an existing Supreme Court precedent and even political disputes they now have with Trump.
The GOP holds a 52-48 majority in the U.S. Senate, which must approve the appointment. By tradition, such nominations must obtain a 60-vote threshold, although the Democrats during Obama’s tenure employed the so-called “nuclear option,” changing the rules so lower-court judges could be approved by a simple majority.
By precedent, that option also now is open to the Republicans for the Gorsuch nomination.
The Democrats attacked Gorsuch over his rulings for and against corporations, and for and against minorities.
Leahy launched an attack over the fact that the GOP majority in the Senate exercised the body’s constitutional authority and declined to vote on Barack Obama’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia.
He also attacked Gorsuch over the fact that the Heritage Foundation and Federalist Society had endorsed his nomination.
He pointed out that Trump during his campaign “promised a Muslim ban” and that one member of Congress expressed a desire to have Gorsuch on the Supreme Court in time to uphold his travel restriction.
That appeared to raise the eyebrows of the mild-mannered Gorsuch.
He said the congressman “has no idea how I’d rule.”
“I’m not going to say anything here that gives anyone any idea I’d rule. That would be grossly improper,” he said.
Regarding holding accountable a president who appoints him, he repeatedly stated, “No man is above the law.”
He told Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, there are no GOP or Democratic judges, only judges.
In his decision-making process, he said, he “listens to the arguments, reads the briefs, listen to my colleagues carefully. And listen to the lawyers in the well.”
His decisions, he said, are on “the facts and the law … equal to the poor and rich.”
Gorsuch explained several times that the existing precedents of the U.S. Supreme Court on issues such as abortion and gun rights are the law of the land and are significant. He said they might need to be reviewed if they become a “precedential island.”
“I don’t believe in litmus tests for judges,” he added.
Leahy charged the system had failed because Obama’s selection for the court was not given a hearing, but Gorsuch again refused to be drawn into politics.
“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule in any case to anyone. I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so.”
Asked how he would have responded had Trump, in his interview with him, asked him to overturn a case such as Roe, Gorsuch said, “I would have walked out.”
“My personal views belong over there. I leave those at home,” Gorsuch said. “Part of being a good judge is taking precedent as it stands. My personal views about a precedent have absolutely nothing to do [with an outcome].”
Feinstein raised questions about his work in Washington for the past two decades, including regarding enhanced interrogation, and Gorsuch said he would be happy to review the documents and respond.
He commented that, in general terms, he was working as an attorney then, properly advising his client.
Some of the senators’ comments amounted to political statements.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., quoted Reince Priebus, Trump’s chief of staff, endorsing Gorsuch as a nominee who “represents the type of judge that has the vision of Donald Trump.”
“I want to hear from you why Mr. Priebus would say that,” Durbin charged. “Most Americans question whether we need a Supreme Court justice with the vision of Donald Trump.”
Durbin also asked Gorsuch about a letter written by a former student accusing him of encouraging discrimination against pregnant female lawyers. The “former student,” identified by New York Magazine as “Jennifer Sisk, who graduated from the University of Colorado Law School last year,” is not just any former student, but a former Democrat aide, who worked in Mark Udall’s Senate office in Washington, according to a report in Townhall.
Twitter users ripped into Durbin for his questioning of Gorsuch:
Left-leaning interests oppose Gorsuch because of his reputation as an originalist who tries to determine the original intent of the framers of the Constitution.
Many Democrats, instead, describe the Constitution as a “living document,” insisting the interpretation of it must change as society “evolves.”
Observers have warned Democrats, who failed catastrophically in the 2016
One commentary critical of Gorsuch said the only open door for opposition to the “well-liked” and “well-qualified” candidate is that he “unerringly sides with the powerful and wealthy,” although his case history doesn’t support that.
The Orange County Register published a commentary that identified one reason Democrats hate Gorsuch: Merrick Garland, Obama’s pick for the post.
“This is a stolen seat,” said Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.
Durbin said Gorsuch’s nomination is”part of a Republican strategy to capture our judicial branch of government.”
Three other justices are over 78 years of age.
Democrats were also using social media to try to tarnish Gorsuch.
Sen. Ed Markey posted on Twitter:
Now more than ever we need a Supreme Court Justice who is independent and not beholden to ideology. Judge Neil #Gorsuch is not that Justice.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) March 20, 2017