U.S. Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faces at least one more day of direct questioning by a Senate panel Wednesday before members vote on whether to recommend his nomination to the full Senate.
Gorsuch told the Senate Judiciary Committee during a confirmation hearing Tuesday that no Trump administration official ever pressured him to promise how he would vote on thorny hot-button issues that could come before the court in coming years.
“I don’t believe in litmus tests for judges,” Gorsuch, a federal appellate judge, said. “No one in that [nomination] process asked me for any commitments, any kind of promises about how I’d rule in any kind of case.
“I have no difficulty ruling for or against any party,” the nominee added.
Gorsuch’s comment, at the start of the second day of confirmation hearings, preceded intensive questioning by lawmakers, especially Democrats, about controversial campaign promises made by Trump.
Those included re-instituting torture techniques for terror suspects, banning Muslims from entering the United States, and nominating judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a woman’s right to abortion.
“President Trump promised a Muslim ban,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, adding that a Republican congressman recently predicted Gorsuch would vote to uphold such a ban if he were confirmed to the Supreme Court.
“Senator, a lot of people say a lot of silly things,” Gorsuch replied. “I’m not going to say anything here that would give anybody any idea how I’d rule in any case like that that could come before the Supreme Court.”
Senators of both parties pressed Gorsuch to speak on torture.
“In case President Trump is watching [the hearing]: if you start waterboarding people, you may get impeached,” warned Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina before posing a question to Gorsuch. “Is that a fair summary? Would he [Trump] be subject to prosecution?”
“Senator, I’m not going to speculate,” Gorsuch responded.
“But he’s not above the law,” Graham continued.
“No man is above the law,” Gorsuch said.
The nominee gave similarly cryptic answers during daylong testimony. While noting that Roe v. Wade established a legal precedent on abortion that has been reaffirmed repeatedly in subsequent cases, he also said that courts “may overrule precedent.”
Democrats have portrayed Gorsuch as a pro-corporate jurist who would tilt the legal playing field against ordinary Americans, and pressed him on cases in which he sided with large companies over their employees.
“How do we have confidence that you just won’t be for the big corporations, that you will be for the little men [people]?” asked Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.
“I’ve participated in 2,700 opinions over 10 and a half years [on the federal bench],” Gorsuch replied. “And if you want cases where I’ve ruled for the little guy as well as the big guy, there are plenty of them.”
Democrats also continued to vent about the Republican majority’s denial to consider former President Barack Obama’s nominee for the same seat, Judge Merrick Garland, once held by conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who died early last year.
“Do you think he [Garland] was treated fairly by this committee?” Leahy asked.
“He’s an outstanding judge,” Gorsuch said. “I can’t get involved in politics.”
Judicial nominees, both liberal and conservative, historically have refused to allow themselves to be pinned down on pending legal issues during their confirmation hearings. Gorsuch did the same, including when Feinstein asked if courts should have the ultimate say in determining the extent of Americans’ right to bear arms.
“Can you do yes or no?” Feinstein asked.
“No, I wish I could,” Gorsuch responded.
“I wish you could, too,” Feinstein added.
WATCH: Gorsuch on criticism of judges’ motives
Again and again, Gorsuch returned to the fundamental American concept of an independent judiciary and the separation of powers in three co-equal branches of government, while also stressing his conservative judicial philosophy that judges exist to apply the laws Congress writes, not rule from the bench.
“Judges would make pretty rotten legislators,” Gorsuch said. “We’re life-tenured. You can’t get rid of us. … It would be a pretty poor way to run a democracy.”
Republicans hold a slim two-seat Senate majority and would need eight Democrats to support Gorsuch should a filibuster necessitate a three-fifths vote to advance his nomination in the full chamber.
Democrats are under intense pressure from progressive activists to oppose Gorsuch, but Republicans have the option of changing Senate rules to eliminate the minority party’s ability to block Supreme Court nominees should Democrats vote as a block against Gorsuch.