After a day of statements, Tuesday’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing was all about answers. Judge Neil Gorsuch was careful in his responses to Senate Judiciary Committee members, but there were still a number of insights that marked the day. Read our full Day 2 coverage here. These are five highlights:
1. Judicial independence
Gorsuch says he will be an independent voice on the court. Senators have repeatedly questioned Gorsuch about his willingness to possibly rule against the man who nominated him, should a case involving President Trump come before the court. Trump has not hesitated to criticize judges who have ruled against him, but Gorsuch told senators on the Judiciary Committee that “no man is above the law.” He said if Trump had asked him during interviews about his position on Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, “I would have walked out the door.” And asked point-blank by Republican Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley if he would have any trouble ruling against “the president who appointed you,” Gorsuch called it a “softball question,” adding he would have no difficulty ruling for or against anyone.
2. Gender equality statements
Democrats asked Gorsuch a number of times about a charge from a former student at a University Of Colorado law ethics class he taught. The woman alleged Gorsuch asked students to raise their hands if they knew of anyone who had used their companies for maternity benefits, had a baby and then left. But Gorsuch said the student misinterpreted his question and that he was actually asking how many students knew of times when companies asked prospective hires if they intended to become pregnant soon. He said he was “shocked every year how many young women raise their hand,” adding “it’s disturbing to me.”
3. Pro-business critique
The case of the frozen trucker was another favorite line of attack from Democrats. It was a case before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in which Gorsuch sided with a company that fired a truck driver. The driver had left behind a disabled trailer and driven away in the truck cab on a subzero night to get warm. The court’s majority sided with the driver, saying he was wrongly fired, but Gorsuch said he was merely upholding the law in his dissent. Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota said he “had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it.” Franken told Gorsuch the position “makes me question your judgment.” Gorsuch rejected the idea that his position on the case indicates he is too pro-business. “I can point you to so many where I’ve found for a worker in an employment action,” Gorsuch said.
4. Childhood hero
Much has been made of his similarities to the justice he would replace, the late Antonin Scalia, but Gorsuch is really very fond of Justice Byron White. Gorsuch was a clerk for White, who was nominated to the court in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy and who, like Gorsuch, was from Colorado. Gorsuch recalled fondly how White’s hearing lasted just 90 minutes and how he “smoked cigarettes through the entire process.” Gorsuch said White “really was my childhood hero” and that “to actually get picked out of the pile to spend the year with him … remains the privilege of a lifetime.”
There were a few moments of levity. For one, Gorsuch talked about taking his daughters “mutton busting,” or sheep-riding, after Republican Sen. Ted Cruz gave Gorsuch an opportunity to go on about the rodeo in Denver — perhaps offering a break from some tense questioning by Democrats.
Later, Nebraska Republican Ben Sasse noted Gorsuch’s ability to sit through several hours of questioning without needing to — as the senator put it — “pee.” “The SCOTUS bladder is something the country stands in awe of,” said Sasse, thereby inaugurating a new meme.