Neil Gorsuch is an impressive witness, a judge out of central casting who says all the right things, with great earnestness, about judicial independence.
Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee smoothly insisted that he would have no problem ruling against the president who appointed him and has respect for court precedent—including Roe v. Wade, which he noted has been “reaffirmed.”
The Democrats tried to rough him up at yesterday’s confirmation hearing, in part by bringing up his role in George W. Bush’s Justice Department, but it was mainly polite sparring that left Gorsuch with few scratches.
“Goodness no, Senator,” he told Dianne Feinstein when asked, based on a note he wrote in a case about torture techniques, if he believed an administration could ignore the law.
And when Feinstein asked whether he would always favor big corporations over the little guy, Gorsuch insisted “from the bottom of my heart that I’m a fair judge.” And he told Orrin Hatch that “a good judge doesn’t give a whit about politics.”
Gorsuch also stressed that he has dissented equally from judges named by Republicans and Democrats.
I’ve watched a zillion confirmation hearings. Whatever you think of his record, Gorsuch put on a clinic in how to testify without losing your cool. He said “gosh” and “golly” and then quoted Hamilton and Socrates.
To be sure, Trump picked Gorsuch because he has a solidly conservative record. The hearings are a kabuki dance in which both liberals and conservatives duck specifics while promising to be impartial on the high court.
And Gorsuch probably would have had smooth sailing if Democrats weren’t still furious at Mitch McConnell and company for refusing to give Merrick Garland a hearing last year—a move that Democrat Pat Leahy called “shameful” at the hearing.
Leahy turned up the temperature, saying it appeared that Trump “outsourced your nomination” to “far-right special interest groups.” But Gorsuch deflected his repeated attempts to get him to take a stand on a religious test and surveillance, drawing a laugh when he said “I admire the various ways” the senator kept trying to draw him into pending cases.
An emotional moment came when Dick Durbin confronted Gorsuch over an allegation that he asked his law students if they knew a woman who had taken maternity benefits and left the country. Gorsuch said passionately that he was discussing the ethics of employers asking female applicants if they plan to get pregnant, and is disturbed that many female students say in a show of hands that it’s happened to them.
The initial press headlines reflected how Gorsuch framed the day.
New York Times: “Gorsuch Vows Independence; Offered Trump ‘No Promises’”
Washington Post: “Gorsuch: ‘No Such Thing as a Republican Judge or a Democratic Judge’”
Having covered Gorsuch’s mother Anne when she ran Ronald Reagan’s EPA, a rocky tenure in which she was charged with contempt of Congress, it is fascinating to watch how easily he deals with Congress.
I also covered the hearings for Antonin Scalia, whose seat Gorsuch would take. He was approved 98 to 0—an outcome impossible to imagine in today’s hyperpartisan climate. But Neil Gorsuch helped himself yesterday.