“Nobody is above the law”
Independence: Gorsuch seeks to reassure senators that he would not be swayed by political pressure. Criticism: Gorsuch calls President Trump’s attacks on judges “disheartening” and “demoralizing.”
I have offered no promises on how I would rule in any case to anyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who is doing the asking.”
Judge Neil Gorsuch
WASHINGTON» Lawmakers on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee questioned Judge Neil Gorsuch for more than 11 hours on Tuesday, probing the Colorado native for his views on abortion, torture and campaign finance.
But the U.S. Supreme Court nominee largely deflected the queries, insisting it would be unfair for him to prejudge future cases while taking for the record a few inquiries about his role at the U.S. Department of Justice under former President George W. Bush as that administration weighed how it should treat terrorism detainees.
“I have offered no promises on how I would rule in any case to anyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who is doing the asking,” Gorsuch said.
Much of the debate in the committee focused on abortion, a perennial issue when the upper chamber considers a high-court nominee.
During his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump said he would, as president, appoint anti-abortion nominees to the Supreme Court — and that promise has reignited the debate over Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that broadly legalized abortion.
Democrats and Republicans on Tuesday pressed Gorsuch on how much deference he would give the 1973 decision.
“Do you view Roe as having super precedent?” asked U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.
He responded: “It has been reaffirmed many times. I can say that.”
In another exchange, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., probed Gorsuch on whether Trump ever asked him about Roe vs. Wade.
“I would have walked out the door,” said Gorsuch. Such an inquiry would have been inappropriate, he said.
The deflections, however, have not quelled concern from abortion-rights groups, which are among his biggest critics and have pointed to his past views as a reason to be concerned about Roe vs. Wade.
Notably, they have highlighted Gorsuch’s opposition to euthanasia and his past opinions that sided with groups that — citing religious beliefs — were opposed to mandates for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
Another issue raised during the hearing was the time Gorsuch spent with the Jus- tice Department counseling the Bush administration on national security and its treatment of terrorism suspects. In 2005, Gorsuch toured the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and, afterward, suggested to his colleagues that a similar trip by skeptical judges could help win support for the White House position.
“A visit, or even just the offer of a visit, might help dispel myths and build confidence in our representations to the Court about conditions and detainee treatment,” wrote Gorsuch and reported by Politico.
Feinstein also asked about his role in crafting the Bush administration’s response to the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, which outlawed the cruel treatment of U.S. prisoners, including detainees.
Known as a signing statement, the White House response drew criticism because it may have contained a loophole that would have allowed Bush to continue what his administration described as enhanced-interrogation techniques.
“There were individuals in maybe the vice president’s office who wanted a more aggressive statement,” Gorsuch said. “And there were others, including the State Department, who wanted a gentler signing statement. My recollection sitting here … is that I was in the latter camp.”
Later, he added that “no man is above the law” when asked about the loophole. But he asked to review the record before answering several questions about his time at Justice.
The request was in keeping with Gorsuch’s demeanor through much of Tuesday’s hearing. Throughout the day-long session, Gorsuch, 49, kept an even keel — often telling senators he wouldn’t comment or speculate in response to questions about wire-tapping, gun control or politics.
A number of Senate Democrats, including Michael Bennet of Colorado, have said a critical issue for them on the Gorsuch nomination is his approach to the Citizens United case and the influence of special-interest money on U.S. elections.
Asked whether political spending by corporations was protected by free speech, Gorsuch said Citizens United gave room to Congress to write new campaign finance laws.
“There is ample room for this body to legislate even in light of Citizens United, whether it has to do with contribution limits, whether it has to do with expenditure limits or whether it has to do with disclosure requirements,” Gorsuch said.
The line of inquiry took a personal turn when U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., questioned Gorsuch about his ties to billionaire Philip Anschutz, a Colorado powerbroker and contributor to political campaigns.
Early in his career, Gorsuch did legal work for Anschutz, and Gorsuch made enough of an impression that the business magnate lobbied Congress and the White House on his behalf when he was a candidate in 2006 for his current post as judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.
“All of my clients — or an awful lot of them — came out of the woodwork to say nice supportive things about me,” Gorsuch said. “Phil Anschutz was one.”
Gorsuch faced other questions about Trump, notably the president’s pointed criticism of the judiciary when the courts have ruled against him or the White House.
Previously, Gorsuch was said to have described such attacks as “demoralizing” and “disheartening,” and on Tuesday he reiterated his concern. “When anyone criticizes the honesty or the integrity or the motivations of a federal judge, I find that disheartening,” he said. “I find that demoralizing because I know the truth.”
Asked whether that included Trump, he said: “Anyone is anyone.”