Senate Democrats on Tuesday pressed Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on his opinion on past court rulings that could help identify his ideological approach to the bench, but he appeared to have emerged from the hours of testimony relatively unscathed. Gorsuch appeared intent on following the Hippocratic Oath: First do no harm. He avoided any serious blunders despite a flurry of questions ranging from his opinion on Roe v. Wade to his opinion on the District of Columbia v. Heller — the 2008 ruling that allowed handguns to be kept inside homes for self-defense. “If I were to start telling you which are my favorite precedents or which are my least favorite precedents or if I view a precedent in that fashion, I would be tipping my hand and suggesting to litigants that I’ve already made up my mind about their cases,” he said.
Gorsuch enters his third hearing session, and second day of questioning, on Wednesday.
The Roe v. Wade line of questioning Tuesday was of particular interest. Trump said during the campaign that he would nominate judges that would overturn the decision. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Gorsuch whether Trump had asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade. The nominee answered no, and said that if Trump had, “I would have walked out the door.”
Gorsuch has not ruled directly on the right to an abortion, and was pressed on the topic by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee’s top Democrat. He said that legalized abortion is “precedent” and “worthy of treatment as precedent like any other.”
On the major gun rights case known in short-hand as “Heller,” he also said that it’s the “law of the land.”
“I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party, other than based on what the law and the facts of a particular case require,” Gorsuch said. “There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge, we just have judges in this country.”
Gorsuch was also asked if he would have an issue ruling against Trump, if the law called for it. Gorsuch said he would not. He went on to repeat earlier comments he reportedly said in private about Trump’s attack on judges.
“When anyone criticizes the honesty or integrity or motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing.” He was asked if that statement applied to the president and he said, “Anyone is anyone.” The New York Times summed up the Republican line of questioning: “Republicans largely used their questioning to help insulate Judge Gorsuch from expected criticism, offering 30-minute safe harbors.”
Democrats see Gorsuch, a George W. Bush appointee in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, as a judge who will interpret the law in a similar fashion of the man he may replace: Antonin Scalia.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he hopes to confirm Gorsuch before a two-week break that begins on April 10. The committee expects to vote on April 3. Grassley told reporters that the nomination would immediately go to the floor. Gorsuch’s confirmation to the high court appears to be very likely. He will benefit from a Republican-controlled Senate. He needs 60 total votes. Republicans hold 52 seats. Ten Democrats represent states that voted for President Trump in November. And, Republicans can “go nuclear” and change the rule to confirm Gorsuch to a simple majority.
Perhaps one of the more tense interactions of the day, was between Gorsuch and Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. Franken asked Gorsuch how he could rule in favor of a company that fired a truck driver who abandoned his trailer on the side of an interstate on a -14 degree night. Alphonse Maddin, the driver, noticed that his trailer’s brakes were frozen and his heater did not work. Maddin unhitched his trailer and drove off to wait somewhere warm. Gorsuch wrote that the company gave him the legal option to wait with his trailer. “I had a career in identifying absurdity,” Franken, a former member of “Saturday Night Live,” said. “I know it when I see it, and it makes me question your judgement.”