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Trump Supreme Court pick grilled during confirmation hearing

Neil Gorsuch pledged to stake out his independence from the president who appointed him. He also said his personal feelings on issues like abortion would not influence his decisions.

Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was in the hot seat on Tuesday as his confirmation hearing entered its second day. After a day of opening statements from the senators tasked with vetting the judge, the 49-year-old was questioned on his record, his political philosophy, and his views on President Trump.

One of the first questions put to Gorsuch was whether he'd feel pressure to rule in favor of Trump, who appointed him. The judge told the Senators that he believed firmly in judicial independence, and he had "no difficulty ruling against or for any party."

He was also quizzed about contentious rulings made by the court in the past, particularly the Roe v. Wade case legalizing abortion. When Graham asked if President Trump had asked Gorsuch to overturn the decision, Gorsuch reiterated his independence from the executive.

"Senator, I would have walked out the door," he replied during the tense exchange. "That's not what judges do."

Adding to that sentiment when asked about the case by committee chair, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Gorsuch said: "My personal views, I tell you, Mr. Chairman, are over here. I leave those at home."

Deutschland Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz 2017 (picture-alliance/dpa/M. Balk)

Graham, of South Carolina, was the only Republican to make it clear he would not give Gorsuch an easy time of it.

Party reaction

The Republicans on the committee seemed to unanimously support Gorsuch, even Senator Lindsey Graham - who ran against Trump in the primary elections and has not shied away from criticizing the president's policies. Graham said he was afraid the president would pick "somebody on TV," but that he "did a good job picking Judge Gorsuch."

Democrats, however, wished to make it clear that they had no interest in sitting idly by after Republicans had engaged in an historically unprecedented refusal to give Barack Obama's nominee, Merrick Garland, so much as a preliminary hearing.

To that point, Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont told the committee he was not about to "rubber stamp a nominee selected by extreme interest groups and nominated by a president who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes."

Decades of decisions

The judge also pushed back on allegations he has sided with corporate interests over workers throughout his career, telling Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein that all people "poor or rich, might or meek, get equal protection of the law." On the previous day, Feinstein had cited a case in which he wrote a dissenting opinion condemning a worker who lost his job when he failed to carry out his duties due to personal safety concerns.

Gorsuch was tapped by Trump to take the seat vacated by the late Antonin Scalia, who died in February 2016. Former President Barack Obama nominated the moderate Merrick Garland to take Scalia's seat, but the Republican-controlled Senate refused to consider him in the hopes that the upcoming general election would allow them to appoint a conservative justice. As the Supreme Court is a lifetime appointment and at 49 he is relatively young for the bench, Gorsuch could shape the court for decades to come.

The initial hearing will be followed by a week of committee discussion between the Senators. Grassley has said he expects to hold a final vote on Gorsuch's confirmation on April 3.

es/kms (AP, Reuters)

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