WASHINGTON (CN) – Emotional exchanges on abortion, equal-protection rights and executive authority dominated Wednesday as the Senate wrapped its second full day of confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., questioned Gorsuch about his allegiances, noting that the 10th Circuit judge has voiced support of Stephen Bannon, the Breitbart founder advising President Donald Trump.
"By nominating you,” Leahy said to the judge, “Trump was talking about a chance of having a new sort of law in place for the next 40 years.”
He added, “He was suggesting you might come in here as a Trojan horse. What vision do you share with Trump?"
As he has since the hearing began Monday, Gorsuch insisted that he will maintain his independence on the bench.
"I have admiration for every member of this committee and the president and the vice president, but none of you speak for me,” Gorsuch said. “I am a judge. I am independent, and I make up my own mind."
Later in the hearing, Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., inserted a bit of levity into the tense hearing. Sasse didn't miss an opportunity to rib Gorsuch when the judge used a word made popular by Trump.
Meaning to say "big and boldly" in reference to John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence, the words came out as "bigly."
Laughter filled the chamber and Gorsuch closed his mouth, eking out a smile. Sasse teased further saying that he had just won $5 off the gaffe.
Turning in his chair to his nephew sitting behind him, Gorsuch replied that he had been embarrassed in front of his family, but that the nephew "loved it."
"He's the one paying me the five bucks," Sasse said.
Further inquiry into the powers of the executive branch continued, including an inquest into possible abuses of the Emoluments Clause. On that, Gorsuch was less forthcoming. The clause states that a president cannot accept gifts from foreign entities without congressional approval.
Gorsuch reserved any further opinion on the subject, citing "impending" litigation or the very possible threat of it.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., made an emotional appeal to the judge, reminding him of his own two daughters and asking if he would be comfortable with how their own rights might fare under his term as a Supreme Court justice.
"You're pivotal in this," Feinstein said.
Though conservatives have praised Gorsuch’s conservative reputation on the bench, Feinstein argued that textualist or originalist interpretations of the U.S. Constitution may miss modern realities, such as the strengthening of rights for minorities, women and the LGBT community.
Gorsuch repeated his loyalty to the word of law and precedent but also took care to reassure Feinstein.
"No one is looking to return to horse-and-buggy days," he said. "A good judge starts with precedent and doesn't reinvent the wheel."
Gorsuch disputed Feinstein’s attack on his school of judicial interpretation. "It would be a mistake to suggest that originalism turns on the secret intentions of the drafters of the language of the law,” he said. “What a good judge strives to do is understand what the words on the page mean and not import words."
He added that it didn't so much matter that "some of the drafters were racist.”