Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's nominee to the Supreme Court, aimed to assure senators on Tuesday that he would be independent on the bench.
"I have offered no promises on how I'd rule in any case to anyone," Gorsuch told the Senate Judiciary Committee at the second session of his confirmation hearing. "And I don't think it's appropriate for a judge to do so, no matter who's doing the asking."
Some senators who will vote on Gorsuch's confirmation have expressed concerns about whether the 49-year-old conservative appeals judge can rule under pressure from the man who nominated him.
Trump earlier this year attacked judges who ruled against his divisive restrictions on travel from Muslim-majority countries, calling one a "so-called judge." Gorsuch has called any attacks on judicial independence "disheartening."
At a presidential debate in October, Trump promised to appoint a justice who would "uphold the Second Amendment ... be pro-life" and "have a conservative bent."
Gorsuch's record may indicate he would rule along the lines with Trump's campaign pledges. But he said Tuesday he did not promise to rule in any particular way. Gorsuch also did not answer questions about whether specific cases were ruled correctly, saying that could compromise his independence.
"If it looks like I'm giving hints or previews or intimations about how I might rule, I think that's the beginning of the end of the independent judiciary if judges have to make effectively campaign promises for confirmation," Gorsuch told the committee's chairman, GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. "Respectfully, senator, I haven't done that in this process, and I'm not about to start."
Republicans hold 52 seats in the 100-member chamber, and may need at least eight Democratic votes to confirm Gorsuch if they decide not to trigger a "nuclear option" rules change that would only require a majority. Many Democrats have dug in against confirming Gorsuch after Republicans did not hold a hearing for Merrick Garland, whom President Barack Obama nominated for the seat left vacant by the death last year of arch conservative Justice Antonin Scalia.
On Tuesday, Gorsuch said Trump never asked him in the interview process to overturn Roe v. Wade, the ruling that recognized women's right to abortion which the president has vowed to reverse. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina asked him what he would have done if Trump had asked.
"Senator, I would have walked out the door. That's not what judges do," Gorsuch responded.
On Monday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., stressed that the ongoing FBI investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election, which includes potential links between the Trump campaign and Moscow, may necessitate independent judges more than ever.
"We meet this week in a looming constitutional crisis," Blumenthal said during his opening statement at the first day of Gorsuch's hearing. "Just hours ago, not far from here, the director of the FBI revealed that his agency is investigating potential ties between President Trump's associates and Russian meddling in our election. The possibility of the Supreme Court needing to enforce a subpoena against the president is no longer idle speculation."
Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona also said Monday he was "interested mostly in (Gorsuch's) view on the separation of powers."
— NBC News contributed to this report