Gorsuch: I would have ‘walked out the door’ if Trump had asked me to overturn Roe

WASHINGTON — Judge Neil Gorsuch said he was never asked by President Trump to promise to overturn the landmark Supreme Court case protecting a woman’s right to an abortion and would have promptly walked out on the president if he had.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked Gorsuch on the second day of his confirmation hearing if the president had ever made Gorsuch promise to vote to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, if he is confirmed to the Supreme Court.

“No, sir,” Gorsuch replied. “Senator, I would have walked out the door. It’s not what judges do.”

Democratic senators have raised questions about whether Gorsuch passed a “litmus test” from Trump on abortion and gun rights. While a candidate, Trump promised to nominate an anti-abortion and pro-Second Amendment judge.

Gorsuch repeatedly insisted he was never asked to commit to rule a certain way on any case by the Trump administration and said he would be independent from the president if confirmed.

“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule on any case to anyone, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who’s doing the asking,” he said.

Abortion came up frequently in the questioning, but Gorsuch was careful not to betray where he stood on the subject. He said the abortion right had been reaffirmed several times and that a “good judge” would take that into account in approaching any new case challenging that precedent.

“Roe v. Wade was decided in 1973; it is a precedent of the United States Supreme Court,” he said. “It has been reaffirmed; the reliance considerations are important there.”

Gorsuch said following precedent is important because it “adds to the determinacy of law.”

Later, Graham pressed him on whether the Supreme Court could eventually decide that owing to advances in medical technology, a fetus could be considered viable outside the womb earlier than the standard of roughly 23 weeks the court promulgated in the most significant abortion case since Roe: 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.

“I’m not a scientist or a doctor,” Gorsuch responded carefully.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua_roberts
U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch testifies during the second day of his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing. (Reuters/Joshua_roberts)

Chief Justice John Roberts, a Bush appointee, called Roe “settled law” in his appellate court confirmation hearing, while Justice Samuel Alito said he would keep an “open mind” on the precedent, signaling a willingness to strike it down.

Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion group Susan B. Anthony List, said her organization is not worried about how the nominee handled the abortion questions.

“Judge Gorsuch’s response on Roe is not a cause for concern for us,” she said. “His acknowledgement of the precedent is to be expected and is in line with the tradition set by previous nominees.”