Supreme Court pick vows adherence to legal precedence
(AP) -- On a glide path toward confirmation, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch declared Wednesday that "when you put on the robe, you open your mind" as he faced a final day of questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Frustrated Democrats, unable to get much out of the Denver-based appeals court judge over 11 hours of questioning a day earlier, suggested they might not vote to confirm him later this month. Regardless, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear this week that he will see that Gorsuch is confirmed on way or another in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, gave voice to widespread Democratic complaints Wednesday about Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's pick for the high court.
Gorsuch has said repeatedly that he would adhere to the rule of law and respect the independence of the judiciary, but he has refused to address specifics on any number of issues, from abortion and guns, to allowing cameras in the courtroom, to the treatment of the federal judge nominated last year to the Supreme Court vacancy but denied a hearing by Republicans.
"What worries me is you have been very much able to avoid any specificity like no one I have ever seen before," Feinstein told Gorsuch. "And maybe that's a virtue, I don't know. But for us on this side, knowing where you stand on major questions of the day is really important to a vote 'aye,' and so that's why we pressed and pressed and pressed."
Gorsuch repeated his general commitments to adhering faithfully to precedent, the law and independence.
"I care about the law, I care deeply about the law and an independent judiciary and following the rules of the law," he told Feinstein. "And that's the commitment I can make to you, I can't promise you more and I can't guarantee you any less."
The hearing took place against the backdrop of the turmoil of Trump's young presidency. Democrats including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are demanding a pause in Gorsuch's nomination pending the FBI investigation of alleged ties between Trump's presidential campaign and Russia. Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa dismissed that as "ridiculous," and McConnell told The Associated Press: "Gorsuch will be confirmed. I just can't tell you exactly how that will happen yet."
For Republicans, Gorsuch's nomination is a bright spot that could go far to compensate for Trump's various other missteps and misstatements.
"I think President Trump, with all of his problems and all of his mistakes, chose wisely when it came to this man," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.., declared at Wednesday's hearing.
Under questioning from Graham, Gorsuch repeated statements he'd made publicly for the first time Tuesday, that he was "disheartened" and "demoralized" by Trump's attacks on the judiciary, including the federal judges who blocked the president's refugee travel ban.
When Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pressed him on whether the president could ignore a court order, Gorsuch replied: "You better believe I expect judicial decrees to be obeyed."
Gorsuch serves on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, and would fill the 13-month vacancy on the high court created by the death of Antonin Scalia last year.
The court has been short-handed since the death of the conservative Scalia. A few cases have ended in 4-4 ties and Gorsuch would be expected to side with the four more conservative justices.
The confirmation hearing will wrap up with a panel of outside witnesses talking about Gorsuch, before a committee vote expected April 3 and a Senate floor vote later that same week.
Gorsuch made two other notable statements Tuesday in response to questions from members of the Judiciary Committee, and both also related to Trump.
Graham asked Gorsuch whether Trump had asked him to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case establishing a right to abortion, and what he would have done had Trump asked him to do so.
"Senator, I would have walked out the door," Gorsuch replied. "That's not what judges do."
And when Leahy asked Gorsuch if a president is free to ignore laws on national security grounds, Gorsuch replied that "nobody is above the law in this country, and that includes the president of the United States."
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.