Supreme Court Nominee Stakes Out Independence From President Trump

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -
U.S. Supreme Court Justice nominee Neil Gorsuch. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s U.S. Supreme Court pick, said on Tuesday he would have no trouble ruling against the president as he tried to stake out his independence amid concerns by Democrats that he would be beholden to the man who nominated him.

With the ideological balance of the Supreme Court at stake, the Senate Judiciary Committee opened the second day of its confirmation hearing for Judge Gorsuch, a conservative federal appeals court judge from Colorado. Republicans, who control Congress, have praised the candidate, 49, as highly qualified for a lifetime appointment as a justice.

Chuck Grassley, the panel’s Republican chairman, asked the judge “whether you’d have any trouble ruling against a president who appointed you.”

“That’s a softball, Mr. Chairman,” the judge said. “I have no difficulty ruling against or for any party, other than based on what the law and facts in the particular case require. And I’m heartened by the support I have received from people who recognize that there’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country.”

Despite slim chances of blocking his nomination in the Republican-led Senate, Democrats have raised questions about Judge Gorsuch’s suitability for the job.

“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. And I don’t, because everybody wants a fair judge to come to their case with an open mind and to decide it on the facts and the law,” he told the committee.

The judge shook hands with supporters and senators as he arrived in the committee room. Grassley said the hearing could last about 10 hours, with all the committee members getting to question him.

Before the hearing resumed on Tuesday, about 60 Gorsuch supporters rallied on the sidewalk outside the Senate office building.

In his opening statement to the panel on Monday, Judge Gorsuch defended his judicial record, emphasizing the need for “neutral and independent judges to apply the law.”

Democrats outlined their lines of attack in their opening statements on Monday, with some senators saying they would press him on whether he is independent enough from President Trump, who has 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.

Judge Gorsuch will also face questioning over cases he has handled in the appeals court in which corporate interests won out over individual workers.

Grassley said on Monday the committee is likely to vote on the nomination on April 3, with the full Senate vote likely soon after. The hearing could last four days.

If Judge Gorsuch is confirmed by the Senate, as expected, he would restore a narrow 5-4 conservative court majority. The seat has been vacant for 13 months, since the death of conservative justice Antonin Scalia.

The court’s ideological leaning could help determine the outcome of cases involving the death penalty, abortion, gun control, environmental regulations, transgender rights, voting rights, immigration, religious liberty, presidential powers and more.

Republicans hold 52 of the Senate’s 100 seats. Under present rules, Judge Gorsuch would need 60 votes to secure confirmation. If he cannot muster 60, Republicans could change the rules to allow confirmation by a simple majority.