Yesterday's opening session of the Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court confirming hearings was defined chiefly by the fact that nothing substantive actually happened. The 11 Republicans and nine Democrats of the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered one long-winded opening statement after another, employing mostly hollow slogans and partisan talking points to mind-numbing effect.
The real action began this morning when Gorsuch and his Senate interrogators finally came to grips. Early questioning centered on a few primary lines of inquiry.
"How do we have confidence in you that you won't be just for the big corporations? That you will be for the little men?" asked Sen. Diane Feinstein, who was up first for the Democrats.
Gorsuch replied by pointing to numerous cases in which his opinions sided with "the least among us," such as ruling in favor of an undocumented immigrant over the Board of Immigration Appeals in a major statutory interpretation case and in favor of multiple criminal suspects in Fourth Amendment cases.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, meanwhile, repeatedly pressed Gorsuch to prove his independence from President Donald Trump and asked Gorsuch to share his legal views on the constitutionality of Trump's recent executive orders banning travelers from certain Muslim-majority countries.
Predictably, Gorsuch refused to weigh in on those ongoing legal disputes.
What about "the president's national security determinations," Leahy pressed on. "Are those reviewable by the Court?" The Trump administration, Leahy pointed out, has "asserted that their national security determinations are un-reviewable by the Court."
"Senator, no man is above the law," Gorsuch replied.
A few minutes later, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham circled back to the issue of Gorsuch's judicial independence from the president who nominated him.
"Do you agree with me that the detainee treatment act prevents waterboarding?" Graham asked, alluding to President Trump's numerous comments in favor of waterboarding.
"Yes, Senator, that's my recollection of it," Gorsuch replied.
"In case President Trump is watching," Graham said with a smile, "if you start waterboarding people you may get impeached, is that a fair summary?"
Gorsuch demurred on that, saying only that the impeachment power belonged to the Senate and that he refused to speculate about any possible future prosecutions of Trump or anybody else.
"But no man is above the law," Graham stressed.
"No man is above the law," Gorsuch immediately agreed. "No man."
If President Trump is watching, I doubt he will like the sound of that.
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