Gorsuch Stresses Precedent, Independence at Confirmation Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch said Tuesday that he believes “no man is above the law” as he tried to assure the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not hesitate to rule against President Trump if he exceeded his authority.

He faced questions that attempted to tease out whether he would challenge executive power if the president oversteps his bounds. Gorsuch said the separation of powers has not lost any of its genius.

“I don’t believe in a litmus test for judges,” Gorsuch said, adding that he would not become a party to one.

While under oath Tuesday morning on the second day of his confirmation hearings, Gorsuch said that no one had asked him for any promises about how he would rule in any case.

“No one comes to my court expecting a rubber stamp,” the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals judge said.

That, according to Gorsuch, includes Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the U.S.

The case is often reviled by pro-life Republicans, while pro-choice Democrats worry that it could be overturned – a concern that has sprung up again around Gorsuch’s nomination.

If Gorsuch is confirmed for the Supreme Court, he will replace the late Antonin Scalia, which could give the court a 5-4 conservative majority.

Some fear that a conservative court will be more likely to rule in favor of corporate interests while rolling back protections for consumers, minorities and workers.

Gorsuch tried to assure the committee his nomination was not a quid pro quo to overturn what is the current law of the land.

He “would have walked out the door” had President Trump asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade, he said.

Under questioning from committee chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican Senator from Iowa, Gorsuch said that a good judge will always examine precedent.

Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., suggested that Roe v. Wade should be considered a “super precedent,” and Gorsuch agreed that it had been reaffirmed many times.

Citing British philosopher and jurist Francis Bacon, Gorsuch said justices should heavily favor court precedent, regardless of whether or not they agree with it.

He declined to answer pointed questions that would reveal his views on precedent and court rulings, saying he wanted to avoid giving fodder to those who might make assumptions about how he would rule on certain issues.

“I have one client,” Gorsuch said. “It’s the law.”

He told the committee he cannot count the times a colleague had changed his mind by saying something brilliant after he thought he had already decided on a ruling.

Noting that Bacon referred to precedent as the anchor of the law, Gorsuch said judges “don’t go reinvent the wheel every day.”

It is “not relevant to [his] job” to weigh in on whether he likes certain rulings or precedents, he said.

During his testimony, Gorsuch also stressed the importance of judicial independence.

“I leave all the other stuff at home and I make decisions based on fact and the law,” he said.

Gorsuch also faced tough questions during the marathon hearing about some of his previous rulings, and whether he wades into politics.

“A good judge doesn’t give a whit about politics,” Gorsuch told Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. “My decisions have always been independent, regardless of who I’m agreeing with or disagreeing with.”

Gorsuch’s comments Tuesday echoed and expanded on some of the distance he tried to put between himself and Democratic claims from the day before that he favors corporate interests over ordinary Americans or that his rulings are outside the mainstream.

Citing statistics compiled by the Congressional Research Service, Gorsuch pointed out that 97 percent of the more than 2,700 cases he ruled on were unanimous, and 99 percent were in the majority.

He also spoke out against President Trump’s attacks on federal judges.

The comments came during questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-N.Y., who had told reporters that Gorsuch had expressed qualms about Trump’s attack on U.S. District Judge James Robart in the Western District of Washington, who blocked the president’s first travel ban.

Gorsuch confirmed what he had told some senators privately. “Judges have to be tough,” he said. “We get called lots of names all over the place. We have to accept criticism with some humility. It makes us better – I take it from my teenage daughters, [and] I take it from litigants.”

Blumenthal asked Gorsuch how he would feel if the president labeled him a “so-called judge,” as he had Robart.

“I know these people, and I know how decent they are,” Gorsuch said.

“When anyone criticizes the honesty, integrity and motives of a federal judge, I find that disheartening and demoralizing because I know the truth,” he added.

“Anyone including the president of the United States?” Blumenthal pressed.

“Anyone is anyone,” Gorsuch responded.

He declined to say more than that, however, insisting that was as far as he could ethically take his comments on the issue.

Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing will continue Wednesday.

Grassley said the committee will vote on his nomination by April 3.

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