Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's nominee to be the next U.S. Supreme Court justice, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today, answering questions about the president's travel ban, Roe v. Wade and other hot button issues.
Here are some of the key takeaways from today's hearing.
Gorsuch denies being a Trump surrogate and won't comment on Trump's travel ban
Gorsuch refused to say whether he'd support or undermine a travel ban barring citizens from six Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States as he testified before members of Congress on his second day of a Supreme Court confirmation hearing.
"I'm not going to say anything here that would give anybody any idea how I would rule in any case that could come before the Supreme Court or my court of the 10th Circuit," Gorsuch said. "It would be grossly improper of a judge to do that."
But Gorsuch stressed to the 20-member Senate Judiciary Committee that Trump's authority on national security matters is limited.
"Nobody is above the law in this country and that includes the president of the United States," Gorsuch said, rejecting the idea that he is a surrogate for Trump or a particular interest group.
Gorsuch says he didn't promise anything to Trump before accepting the Supreme Court nomination
Gorsuch denied that he made any promises to Trump before accepting the nomination to be the next Supreme Court justice in an effort to assure senators that he is not beholden to the president.
“I have offered no promises on how I’d rule on any case to anyone and I don’t think it’d be appropriate for a judge to do so," Gorsuch said.
"You should be reassured, no one in the process -- from the time I was contacted to the time I was nominated -- no one asked me for any commitments in any kind of case," Gorsuch added in response to further questions from committee chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa.
Gorsuch said judicial independence was a no-brainer.
"There’s no such thing as a Republican judge or a Democratic judge. We just have judges in this country," he said.
Gorsuch on whether he would overturn Roe v. Wade
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the committee's ranking member, expressed her concern for women's rights by recalling Trump's campaign promise to overturn the landmark law protecting a woman's right to an abortion.
"It is a precedent in the United States Supreme Court," Gorsuch replied. "It has been reaffirmed many times."
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., later asked, "Did [Trump] ever ask you to overrule Roe v. Wade?"
"No," Gorsuch said. "Senator, I would have walked out the door. It's not what judges do. They don't do it at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue, and they shouldn't do it at this end either, respectfully."
Gorsuch and the $10 million political ad campaign
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, repeatedly asked Gorsuch if he knew who was behind a reported $10 million dark money political ad campaign working in his favor.
Dark money refers to funds given to organizations that do not have to be disclosed publicly.
"I know there's a lot of money being spent as I understand it by both sides," Gorsuch quipped.
Whitehouse pressed again, "Do you know who is spending the money?"
“You’d have to ask them,” Gorsuch said.
Whitehouse fired back: “I can’t because I don’t know who they are. It is just a front group.”
Republicans later came to his defense and gave Gorsuch another opportunity to dismiss the idea that organizations with dark money have his support.
“Nobody speaks for me,” Gorsuch said. “Nobody. I speak for me. I am a judge. I don’t have spokesmen. I speak for myself.”
Gorsuch addresses previous controversial rulings and alleged comments
In an exchange with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., Gorsuch addressed the controversy surrounding alleged comments he made last year about women abusing maternity leave for benefits.
Gorsuch clarified that he believed asking a prospective hire if she was planning to have a baby would be an "inappropriate question" and that comments he made during a classroom discussion were taken out of context.
"We talk about the pros and the cons in this dialogue that they can think through for themselves how they might answer that very difficult question," Gorsuch said about his conversations with students in his class at the University of Colorado.
He continued, "I ask it of everybody. How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment? An inappropriate question about your family planning. I am shocked every year, senator, how many young women raise their hand. It's disturbing to me."
Durbin also asked Gorsuch about a case involving a truck driver who believed he was wrongly fired. The driver had radioed for help after the brakes on his trailer froze and was told to wait for a repair truck to arrive. Hours later, the truck driver, numb and disorientated from sitting in the unheated truck for hours in freezing temperatures, decided to unhook the trailer from the truck so he could seek assistance.
The truck driver was eventually fired for breaking protocol but a judge later concluded that his firing violated whistleblower provisions. As an appeals court judge, Gorsuch was the sole dissenter in the case, siding with the trucker's employer.
"Senator, all I can tell you is my job is to apply the job you write. The law as written said he would be protected if he refused to operate, and I think by any plain understanding, he operated the vehicle. If congress wishes to revise the law, I wrote this -- I wrote -- I said it was an unkind decision. I said it may have been a wrong decision, a bad decision, but my job is not to write the law," Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch was asked about the case later by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who seemed perplexed by Gorsuch's dissent.
"It is absurd to say this company is in its rights to fire him because he made the choice of possibly dying from freezing to death or causing other people to die possibly by driving an unsafe vehicle," Franken said.
"That's absurd. Now, I had a career in identifying absurdity," Franken said. "And I know it when I see it. And it makes me -- you know, it makes me question your judgment."