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Gorsuch grilled on abortion, torture and Trump

Neil Gorsuch testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on his nomination to be an associate justice of the Supreme Court during a hearing on March 21. | Getty

The Supreme Court nominee faces tough questions from Senate Democrats

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Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faced a marathon grilling session before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, with Democrats eager to dissect his lengthy legal record both on the bench and as a top lawyer in the Bush administration — and whether he would be willing to take on President Donald Trump.

Democrats have indicated they want to interrogate Gorsuch on everything from abortion and campaign finance to workers’ rights and executive power. They are also sure to press Gorsuch on his tenure as a Justice Department lawyer working on anti-terror policies in the George W. Bush administration. His views on judicial independence will also be a hot topic in light of the attacks on multiple judges by the man who nominated him.

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Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley attempted to head off those criticisms from Democrats by asking Gorsuch about his independence and whether Gorsuch would struggle to rule against the president who picked him.

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“That’s a softball, Mr. Chairman,” Gorsuch responded. “I have no difficulty ruling for or against any party … and I’m heartened by the support I have received from people who recognize that there’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country.”

Gorsuch also testified that he has “offered no promises on how I’d rule in any case, to anyone” — adding that he would not find it “appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who’s doing the asking.”

Under questioning from Grassley, the nominee also stressed that he views his role as a judge to come up with the fairest conclusion using the law and facts — a theme that he also sounded during his opening remarks on Monday.

“Judges would make pretty rotten legislators. We’re life tenured. You can’t get rid of us,” Gorsuch said Tuesday. “It only takes a couple of us to make a decision, or nine, or 12, depending on the court. It’d be a pretty poor way to run a democracy.”

Gorsuch declined to say whether Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, was correctly decided more than four decades ago.

The comments came in an exchange about legal precedent with Grassley, who appeared eager to stave off Democratic attempts to pin Gorsuch down on controversial issues.

Roe “is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch testified.

“I’m not in a position to tell you whether I’d personally like or dislike any precedent. That’s not relevant to my job,” Gorsuch in the discussion with Grassley. “Precedent … deserves our respect. And to come in and think that just because I’m new or the latest thing I’d know better than everybody who comes before me would be an act of hubris.”

When asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) whether he viewed Roe as a “super precedent,” Gorsuch responded: “It has been reaffirmed many times, I can say that.”

Gorsuch similarly dodged on whether other hot-button Supreme Court cases on gun laws and campaign finance regulations were correctly decided.

“I’d respectfully respond that it is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court and as a good judge, you don’t approach that question anew as if it’s never been decided,” Gorsuch told senators.

Gorsuch did offer Democrats an olive branch by backing away from some of the most aggressive legal stances taken by the Bush administration in the war on terror, with the nominee declaring that he was in a camp of advisers who favored a less hawkish approach.

Feinstein had expressed concern with Gorsuch’s involvement as a Justice Department official on a signing statement Bush issued, which seemed to narrow an anti-torture amendment authored by Sen. John McCain.

“Doesn’t it mean when you wrote this in e-mail you were condoning waterboarding as lawful?” the California senator said.

Gorsuch said the statement divided the administration and that he wasn’t a policy advocate. My “involvement in this process was as a lawyer. That’s all I was I was a lawyer for a client,” the nominee insisted.

However, Gorsuch also said his views tended to the “gentler” side.

“There were individuals, in maybe the vice president’s office, who wanted a more aggressive signing statement along the lines you described and…there were others, including at the State Department, who wanted a gentler signing statement. And my recollection sitting here as best I can give it to you without studying the email is: I was in the latter camp.”

Gorsuch said his views often aligned with one of the more moderate Bush advisers: State Department legal adviser John Bellinger. Gorsuch insisted he never suggested that the president could ignore the law Congress passed.

“There was a tug of war among parties in the White House,” said Gorsuch. “I certainly would never have counseled anyone that they could disobey the law.”

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Source: POLITICO – TOP Stories

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