Washington, United States | AFP |
President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, stated repeatedly at his confirmation hearing Tuesday that “no man is above the law,” as senators grilled him on his willingness to take on the nation’s commander in chief.
The hearing unfolded along partisan lines in the second day of questioning, with Democrats dubious that the silver-haired 49-year-old judge will protect civil liberties and social progress.
If confirmed, Gorsuch — a federal appeals judge for the past decade — would fill the seat left vacant by the death of conservative Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016 in the middle of the presidential election campaign.
Since that time, the court has been operating with eight justices, and Democrats are still bitter over Republicans’ refusal to even consider Barack Obama’s nominee.
Pressed by Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy whether the president could operate with impunity on matters such as national security, torture or surveillance, Gorsuch each time replied, “Senator, no man is above the law.”
“Nobody is above the law in this country, and that includes the president of the United States,” he added.
When asked if he was a surrogate for Trump or certain interest groups, Gorsuch responded simply, “No.”
Democrats are intent on pushing Gorsuch to expand on his approach to hot-button issues such as abortion, same sex marriage and the right to bear arms.
In keeping with tradition, Gorsuch declined to give his personal views on landmark Supreme Court decisions or speculate on how he would rule in certain hypothetical situations, since that would mar his impartiality for deciding future cases.
– ‘Not what judges do’ –
Progressives in the United States fear that a woman’s right to an abortion as guaranteed by the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision will be at risk if Gorsuch is confirmed, tipping the court’s balance toward conservatives.
Gorsuch appeared to bristle when asked by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham whether Trump had asked him to overturn Roe v Wade when the two met in person after his nomination.
He denied that Trump had ever asked him that, then added: “I would have walked out the door. It’s not what judges do.”
A Colorado native with an Ivy League education, Gorsuch — the youngest nominee for a generation — is known for a strict interpretation of the Constitution known as originalism, and his defense of so-called traditional family values.
He is known for his ability to write incisive rulings and for his traditionalist views, both of which have fueled comparisons with Scalia.
Trump announced his pick of Gorsuch in late January, just 11 days into his presidency.
Some Democrats are demanding a 60-vote threshold for Gorsuch’s confirmation, which they have permission to do under Senate rules.
But other Democrats, especially those from states that voted for Trump, may be unwilling to force the issue and the majority Republicans say they are confident Gorsuch will be confirmed.
The hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to continue Wednesday.