Judge Neil Gorsuch reflected on the toll of the Supreme Court confirmation process during his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday afternoon.
While fielding questions from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) about campaign finance — specifically regarding the conservative Judicial Crisis Network’s $10 million ad buy supporting Gorsuch’s confirmation to the bench, the nominee lamented the sacrifices that come with entering the political fray.
“Senator,” Gorsuch began, “there’s a lot about this confirmation process today that I regret. A lot. A lot.”
That comment sparked a few nervous laughs to break out, piercing through the awkward silence filling the chamber.
Gorsuch, a 49-year-old federal appellate judge on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, invoked the late Supreme Court Justice Byron White, a fellow Coloradan for whom he clerked and remembers as a “childhood hero,” noting how the process has changed over the years.
Former President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat, nominated White for the Supreme Court in 1962.
“When Bryon White sat here,” Gorsuch told Whitehouse, “it was 90 minutes. He was through this body in two weeks and he smoked cigarettes while he gave his testimony.”
“There’s a great deal about this process I regret,” he continued. “I regret putting my family through this.”
Gorsuch, who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia, went into conformation hearings Monday under a cloud of political rancor.
In the final year of President Barack Obama’s administration, the outgoing Democrat nominated Judge Merrick Garland to replace Scalia on the Supreme Court bench. The Republicans, however, never held hearings on Garland, citing the so-called “Biden rule,” named after former Vice President Joe Biden.
In 1992, Biden, then-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said: “Action on a Supreme Court nomination must be put off until after the election campaign is over.”
“It is a president’s constitutional right to nominate a Supreme Court justice and it is the Senate’s constitutional right to act as a check on a president, and withhold its consent,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in March 2016.
On Tuesday, Gorsuch refused to comment on Garland’s predicament, arguing that it would be inappropriate for him to engage in “political” discourse as a judge.
“I think it would be imprudent for judges to start commenting on political disputes between themselves or the various branches,” he said, according to the Washington Post.
As for questions regarding campaign finance, Gorsuch’s answer to Whitehouse was simple: If you don’t like the law, change it.
“The fact of the matter is, it is what it is, and it’s this body that makes the laws,” the Trump nominee said. “If you wish to have more disclosure, pass a law, and a judge will enforce it, senator.”