WASHINGTON – U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch stressed during the second day of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee that he considers himself a “fair judge” who leaves his personal views “at home,” offering assurances that he would not hesitate to rule against the man who nominated him to the high court, President Trump, should circumstances require.
“I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party other than based on what the law and the facts in the particular case require,” Gorsuch said in response to a question posed by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the committee chairman.
Time and again the 49-year-old Gorsuch, currently serving on the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, sought to convince lawmakers that he is a wholly independent jurist who eschews political considerations in favor of the facts laid out in each case.
“Anyone, any law is going to get a fair and square deal with me,” Gorsuch told the panel.
Tuesday’s hearing offered committee members their first opportunity to quiz Gorsuch over his judicial philosophy and his views on certain issues like abortion and campaign finance. Like most of his Supreme Court predecessors, Gorsuch danced around most the inquiries to avoid any potential conflicts of interest should he ultimately be confirmed.
One area Gorsuch didn’t run from was Trump and how he would approach a case before the Supreme Court involving the president. His simple answer: “No man is above the law.”
Gorsuch’s position was furthered solidified under questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a vocal supporter of the nominee, who asked if Trump sought his views on Roe v. Wade, the high court decision that confirmed abortion as a constitutional right in 1972.
Gorsuch said Trump did not quiz him on the issue. If he had, “I would have walked out the door. That’s not what judges do. They don’t do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue and they shouldn’t do it at this end either.”
“I have offered no promises on how I would rule on any case to anyone,” he said.
As if to further address his willingness to clip any Trump apron strings, Gorsuch expressed displeasure with “anyone (who) criticizes the honesty or the integrity or the motives of a federal judge.”
“I find that disheartening. I find that demoralizing – because I know the truth,” Gorsuch said.
Trump has famously taken on the judiciary in the recent past, chiding one federal judge for ruling against him in a civil suit – calling him a “so-called judge” — and then objecting to an appeals court decision on his executive order intended to ban individuals traveling from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.
Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) if his comments included anyone – “including the president of the United States” – Gorsuch responded, “Anyone is anyone.”
Regardless, Gorsuch declined to express an opinion on Trump’s proposed travel ban – the original was removed but the replacement is now also the subject of an injunction – noting “that’s an issue that is currently being litigated actively.”
Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), the former committee chairman, noted that a congressman, whom he did not identify, recently opined that Gorsuch would uphold the Trump ban.
For one of the few times during the long hearing, Gorsuch bristled.
“Senator, a lot of people say a lot of silly things,” Gorsuch responded, noting that the congressman “has no idea how I’d rule in that case.”
Still, for the most part, Gorsuch stuck to what he characterized as the Ginsburg standard, attributed to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in refusing to address some of the more pointed questions, telling the panel “I would be tipping my hand and suggesting to litigants that I have already made up my mind” if he offered his thoughts.
“I’m not going to say anything here that’s going to give anybody any idea how I’d rule in any case like that that could come before the Supreme Court or my court on the 10th Circuit,” Gorsuch said. “It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that. It would be a violation of the separation of powers and judicial independence if someone sitting at this table, in order to get confirmed, had to make promises or commitments about how they’d rule in a case that’s currently pending and likely to make its way to the Supreme Court.”
One of those instances occurred when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the ranking member, sought to pin Gorsuch down on abortion, since Trump stated publicly that he would only appoint anti-abortion judges.
Gorsuch acknowledged that Roe v. Wade has been “reaffirmed many times,” but he refused to go beyond that. Asked by Feinstein if he considered the case represented “a super precedent,” he declined to say.
One tense moment occurred when Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tried to dig into his views on the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which overturned numerous campaign finance restrictions. The result was a proliferation of “dark money” campaigns, Whitehouse said, including one on behalf of Gorsuch – the Judicial Crisis Network initiated a $10 million campaign to get him confirmed.
Whitehouse noted that the identities of those expending money on his behalf are not disclosed. He asked the nominee what these folks saw in him that would lead them to donate so much money.
“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch said.
“I can’t because I don’t know who they are,” Whitehouse retorted.
“And it’s this body that makes the laws and if you wish to have more disclosure, pass a law and a judge will enforce it, Senator,” Gorsuch shot back.
Committee Democrats once again raised the specter of U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Judge Merrick Garland, who was nominated by then-President Obama to assume the seat Gorsuch is seeking, which opened with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia more than 13 months ago. Majority Republicans refused to consider the nomination, failing even to consent to a hearing, and Democrats are still considering retaliatory measures.
Leahy solicited Gorsuch’s views on Garland’s treatment but the nominee demurred, although he expressed admiration for Garland.
Questioning of Gorsuch will continue on Wednesday. Grassley has expressed a desire to conduct a committee vote by April 3 so the full Senate can consider the nomination before Easter.