Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch addressed physician-assisted suicide, conservatism, and the Constitution in a second and final day of questioning in his Senate confirmation hearings.
On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear witnesses testifying for and against the federal appeals court judge before scheduling a confirmation vote for President Donald Trump’s nominee.
Here are four takeaways from Gorsuch’s responses to questions from the committee’s nine Democrats and 11 Republicans:
- Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Right to Die
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., recounting an emotional and personal story, questioned Gorsuch on his views on physician-assisted suicide, which proponents call “death with dignity.”
One of the most moving parts of the confirmation hearings followed.
“You make the statement that there is no justification for having anything to do with the end of someone’s life, encouraging the end of life,” Feinstein said, referring to a book Gorsuch wrote. “Well, California just passed an End of Life [Option] Act.”
The End of Life Option Act, which makes it legal for terminally ill patients in California to end their life with medical assistance, went into effect June 9.
“I, in my life, have seen people die horrible deaths, family, of cancer, when there was no hope,” the California Democrat said, “and my father begging me, ‘Stop this, Dianne. I’m dying.’”
There are times you can’t [end] the suffering [and it] becomes so pronounced. I just went through this with a close friend … this is real and it’s very hard. So tell us what your position is in the situation with California’s End of Life Option Act, as well as what you have said on assisted suicide.
Gorsuch wrote: “All human beings are intrinsically valuable and the intentional taking of human life by private persons is always wrong.”
Gorsuch said he stands by his opinion in the book regarding the Supreme Court’s 1990 decision in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health.
The Supreme Court decided that “an incompetent person does not have the same constitutionally protected right as a competent person to refuse life-sustaining treatment,” according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“What I wrote in the book was I agree with the Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch, visibly moved, told Feinstein that he understands the complexity of end-of-life issues and the suffering that comes along with it:
Your father, we’ve all been through it with family, and my heart goes out to you, it does. And I have been there with my dad. And others. And at some point you want to be left alone. Enough with the poking and the prodding. ‘I want to go home and die in my own bed in the arms of my family.’ And the Supreme Court recognized in [Cruzan v. Director] that that’s a right in the common law, to be free from assault and battery, effectively.
Feinstein pressed Gorsuch on his views regarding physician-assisted suicide in cases when a person is in intense pain.
“Supposing you cannot handle the pain, and you know that it’s irreconcilable?” she asked.
Gorsuch said he supports any measure to alleviate pain, but did not say he could support assisted suicide.
“Then, Senator, the position I took in the book on that was anything necessary to alleviate pain would be appropriate and acceptable, even if it caused death, not intentionally but knowingly,” Gorsuch said.
“I drew a line between intent and knowingly. And I’ve been there. I have been there.”
— Senator Hatch Office (@senorrinhatch) March 22, 2017
- Faithfulness to the Constitution
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Gorsuch whether he would honor precedent and remain faithful to the Constitution if confirmed.
“I will ask you this,” Cruz said. “As a judge today, and as I believe, a justice in short order, will you pledge to be faithful to the law and the Constitution and neither favor nor disfavor any litigant based on who they are?”
Gorsuch promised that he could deliver on this request.
“I guarantee you no more and I promise you no less,” Gorsuch said.
“That is precisely what we should expect,” Cruz said.
Cruz said he was disappointed by the efforts of some Senate colleagues to overpoliticize the confirmation process.
“My colleagues, the Democrats, have a right to engage in whatever attacks they choose,” Cruz said. “But it’s a little rich for them to be maligning a sitting federal judge and at the same time giving speeches about how unacceptable it is for anyone to criticize a federal judge.”
Cruz mentioned comments that House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi made about Gorsuch during an interview on CNN.
“If you breathe air, drink water, eat food, take medicine, or in any other way interact with the courts, this is a very bad decision,” Pelosi, the former House speaker, said of Gorsuch’s nomination by Trump.
Pelosi said Gorsuch is “well outside the mainstream of American legal thought, not committed to Supreme Court precedents.”
The accusations, Cruz said, are inappropriate.
“You can’t have both at the same time,” he said. “Now I am not going to ask you to respond to any of these attacks. I actually think these attacks speak for themselves.”
"I care deeply about the law and an independent judiciary and following the rules of the law. And that's what commitment I can make to you." pic.twitter.com/xAX1n5LMUh
— Gorsuch Facts (@GorsuchFacts) March 22, 2017
- Roe v Wade as ‘Law of the Land’
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked Gorsuch whether he accepts Roe v. Wade “as the law of the land.”
Gorsuch responded: “I accept the law of the land, Senator, yes.”
The Supreme Court’s 7-2 decision in Roe v. Wade legalized abortion across the nation in 1973.
“I would tell you that Roe v. Wade, decided in 1973, is precedent of the United States Supreme Court,” Gorsuch said. “It has been reaffirmed … So a good judge will consider as precedent of the United States Supreme Court worthy as treatment of precedent like any other.”
— Senator Ben Sasse (@SenSasse) March 22, 2017
- Ideology and Conservatism
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, D-Hawaii, confronted Gorsuch about an article he wrote for National Review in 2005 headlined “Liberals and Lawsuits.”
Gorsuch, a lawyer in private practice at the time, was appointed to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by President George W. Bush the following year.
“In that article, you wrote that as a result of Republican wins in the presidential and Senate elections [in 2004] … Republicans were in charge of the judicial appointment process,” Hirono said, adding:
As a result, you wrote, ‘The level of sympathy liberals pushing constitutional litigation can expect in the courts may wither over time, leaving the left truly out in the cold.’ This shows you understand or at least recognize that judges, appointed and confirmed by Republicans, will have less sympathy for liberals pushing constitutional litigation, as you put it. I am profoundly troubled by this, because I thought judges, as you described, make decisions divorced from their personal and philosophical leanings. So should justice depend on who won the last election or who is in charge of nominating and confirming judges?
Gorsuch reiterated his position that justices should be apolitical in nature and that his decisions are in the mainstream.
“Senator, I appreciate the opportunity to answer that question because I have tried to make as clear as I can over the last few days that I don’t view my colleagues as Republican judges or Democrat judges, I view them as judges,” Gorsuch said, adding:
And I believe that the courts are open to all persons and I believe, if you look at my record as a judge as opposed to anything else, you are gonna see that I have decided over 2,700 cases [and] 97 percent of the time they have been unanimous. Ninety-nine percent of the time they have been in the majority.
This report includes content from earlier reports by The Daily Signal on Gorsuch’s Senate confirmation hearings.