Key moments from Gorsuch’s confirmation hearing

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is coming under a barrage of tough questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee during the second day of his confirmation hearings. Tuesday’s action is expected to last at least 10 hours, as senators get their first chance to interrogate President Donald Trump’s pick for the high court.

Here’s POLITICO’s running list of the key moment’s from Gorsuch’s big day before the committee:

Gorsuch on Roe: ‘It is a precedent’

Gorsuch declined to say whether Roe vs. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion, was correctly decided more than four decades ago.

Roe “is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch told Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley.

Gorsuch had the same refrain on precedent when pressed on several other hot-button issues, including guns and campaign finance.

“I’m not in a position to tell you whether I’d personally like or dislike any precedent. That’s not relevant to my job,” Gorsuch said. “Precedent … deserves our respect. And to come in and think that just because I’m new or the latest thing I’d know better than everybody who comes before me would be an act of hubris.”

When asked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) whether he viewed Roe as a “super precedent,” Gorsuch responded: “It has been reaffirmed many times, I can say that.”

Later, Gorsuch told senators that if Trump had asked him to rule in a certain way involving Roe, “I would’ve walked out the door. Not what judges do.”

Gorsuch dodges on Garland obstruction

Gorsuch refused to weigh in on whether Merrick Garland was treated fairly by the Senate when Republicans blocked his nomination for nearly a year.

“I can’t get involved in politics,” Gorsuch told Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.). “There’s judicial canons that prevent me from doing that. I think it would be very imprudent of judges to start commenting on political disputes between themselves or the various branches.”

Gorsuch did offer praise for former President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee: “Whenever I see his name attached to an opinion, it’s one I read with special care.”

Gorsuch stays mum on Muslim ban

Gorsuch dodged Tuesday when asked whether he would uphold Trump’s “Muslim ban” executive order if it comes to the Supreme Court.

“I’m not going to say anything that gives anybody any idea how I’d rule in any case like that that could come before my court,” Gorsuch said under questioning by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) “It’d be grossly improper to do that.“

Leahy noted that at least one member of Congress has suggested Gorsuch needs to be confirmed in order for Trump to carry out his travel ban policy, which is facing a slew of legal challenges and has been largely blocked by a series of court rulings.

“A lot of people say a lot of silly things,” Gorsuch replied.

Leahy suggested Gorsuch should be able to at least address the general issue of the government’s right to single out religions for particular treatment. “Would the president have the authority to ban all Jews from the United States or all people that come from Israel?” Leahy asked.

Gorsuch wouldn’t answer that question either, but eventually did pass judgment on whether a specific religion could be banned from the military.

“That’s against the law,” Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch takes on prosecutors

One question about Gorsuch is whether he shares some of the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s more iconoclastic beliefs, including his strict insistence on criminal defendants’ rights and his expansive view of the Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Under questioning by Sen. Orrin Hatch, Gorsuch signaled Tuesday that he’s willing to rule in ways prosecutors dislike.

“Ask the U.S. Attorney’s office in Colorado. I give them a pretty hard time. I make them square their corners, Sen. Hatch,” Gorsuch said, his voice growing slow, measured and emphatic. He pointed to several of his decisions: “Three recent Fourth Amendment cases, ruling for the accused — the least among us — against the government.”

Gorsuch’s ‘gentler’ side in the war on terror

Feinstein also expressed concern with Gorsuch’s involvement as a Justice Department official on a signing statement Bush issued, which seemed to narrow an anti-torture amendment authored by Sen. John McCain.

“Doesn’t it mean when you wrote this in e-mail you were condoning waterboarding as lawful?” the California senator said.

Gorsuch said the statement divided the administration and that he wasn’t a policy advocate. My “involvement in this process was as a lawyer. That’s all I was I was a lawyer for a client,” the nominee insisted.

However, Gorsuch also said his views tended to the “gentler” side.

“There were individuals, in maybe the vice president’s office, who wanted a more aggressive signing statement along the lines you described and…there were others, including at the State Department, who wanted a gentler signing statement. And my recollection sitting here as best I can give it to you without studying the email is: I was in the latter camp.”

Gorsuch on making Trump’s list

Gorsuch revealed Tuesday that he’d just been discussing with a friend how he had missed out on then-candidate Trump’s first list of potential high court nominees, when he learned he’d made an updated version of that list.

Gorsuch recounted Tuesday that he’d had breakfast with legal scholar and frequent Scalia co-author Bryan Garner, who was seated in the hearing room, when Trump’s first list emerged.
“We were having breakfast one day and he said, ‘Neil, you’re not on the list.’ … I said I love my life in Colorado. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a happy man. I have a loving wife, beautiful home and children, a great job with wonderful colleagues. I’m a happy person.”

Gorsuch suggested he was content with that situation, when he abruptly learned he’d made Trump’s second tranche.

“Walking away from breakfast, I get an e-mail from Bryan saying there’s a new list and you’re on it. And that was the first I heard of it,” Gorsuch said.

The lists were prepared for Trump by the conservative Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation, an unorthodox move that has come under fire from Democrats.

Gorsuch tries to make a joke

During questioning about his views about past cases, Gorsuch made it clear that judges — like all humans — aren’t without personal views. But it was incumbent on judges to rule fairly, he added.

“We’re all human beings. I get that. I’m not an algorithm,” Gorsuch said. “We haven’t yet replaced judges with algorithms, although I think eBay is trying.”

No one inside the hearing room laughed, and Gorsuch moved on.

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