'SCOTUS bladder' question defuses tension at Gorsuch hearing

Judicial independence. Gun rights. Abortion.

All were top topics at Tuesday’s confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch – but Sen. Ben Sasse abruptly changed course late in the day with another pressing question, about the Supreme Court nominee’s bladder.

“How in the world is Gorsuch able to go so many hours at a time without peeing?” the Nebraska Republican asked, summing up a text he said he got from his wife.

The question was met with uproarious laughter in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room, coming in the thick of a long day of questioning – and also helping defuse the tension from a tough round between Gorsuch and Democratic Sen. Al Franken.

Sasse made clear he wasn’t looking for a response to his wife’s text.

“I won’t make you answer, but the SCOTUS bladder is something the whole country stands in awe of,” he said.

“Boy, I don’t even know what to say now, you really caught me off guard there,” Gorsuch said.

The exchange marked a moment of levity after Gorsuch was grilled by Franken, in particular over a controversial case involving worker rights and safety.

In the case, which came up several times in Tuesday’s hearing, the appeals court judge dissented on the 2016 decision regarding a truck driver fired after his boss told him to stay with his cargo after the brakes on his trailer froze. But the driver reported freezing due to a heater malfunction, so he unhitched the trailer and drove off.

A majority of judges said federal law protected drivers from dismissal when they refuse to operate an unsafe vehicle. But Gorsuch said the driver wasn't refusing to drive.

Franken, a former comedian, scoffed at Gorsuch’s stance.

“I had a career in identifying absurdity, and I know it when I see it,” he said.

Franken also asked about White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus’ comments at a February conference that with the Gorsuch nomination, "we're talking about a change of potentially 40 years of law." That's a reference to the 1973 landmark abortion decision Roe vs. Wade that legalized abortion.

"Mr. Priebus doesn't speak for me and I don't speak for him," Gorsuch said.

Gorsuch added: "I don't appreciate it when people characterize me ... I am a judge, I am my own man."

When Franken asked if he was comfortable with Priebus describing his nomination that way, Gorsuch said "there is a lot about this process I am uncomfortable with."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.