US President Donald Trump’s pick to fill the vacant spot on the Supreme Court might turn out to be less conservative than he thought.
On the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, Neil Gorsuch tried to present himself as a neutral arbiter of the law, independent from Trump, the man who nominated him.
“No man is above the law”, Gorsuch said repeatedly, “including the president of the United States”.
The seat Gorsuch was nominated to fill has been vacant for 13 months, since the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Trump promised to appoint a conservative anti-abortion justice who would help overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which made abortion legal in the US. Many conservatives want the ruling reversed.
If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Gorsuch would restore the nine-seat court’s conservative majority at a time when Republicans control Congress and the White House.
But the conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado repeatedly said he was beyond politics.
“A good judge doesn’t give a whit about politics or the political implications of his or her decision, (and) decides where the law takes him or her fearlessly,” Gorsuch said.
In questioning, Gorsuch said he never met Trump before his nomination interview. In that conversation, according to Gorsuch, he gave Trump no guarantees on how he would rule on abortion rights, despite Trump’s campaign trail promise that views on abortion would be an important consideration for him in picking a justice.
Gorsuch was blunt on what he would have done if Trump had broached that topic with him in his interview for the Supreme Court: “I would have walked out the door.”
“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule in any case to anyone. And I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who’s doing the asking,” Gorsuch added.
Trump has repeatedly assailed the judiciary both as a candidate and since taking office on January 20.
Over the past weeks, Trump condemned federal judges who have put on hold his two executive orders to ban the entry into the United States of people from several Muslim-majority countries.
During the campaign, he slammed a judge of Hispanic origin who oversaw fraud lawsuits against Trump University, Trump’s defunct real estate school. Trump suggested that the judge’s heritage was influencing the judge’s opinion about the case because of Trump’s campaign rhetoric about illegal immigration.
In a Twitter post during the hearing on Tuesday, Trump praised Gorsuch as “the kind of judge we need” for the high court.
The committee is likely to vote on Gorsuch’s nomination on April 3, with the full Senate vote likely soon after. The confirmation hearing could last four days.