At a U.S. Senate hearing Wednesday on his nomination to the federal bench in Nebraska, Omaha attorney Brian Buescher was pressed about pro-life statements he made when running for state attorney general in 2014.
"Do you believe Roe v. Wade was correctly decided?" Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Buescher, referring to the landmark case involving state restrictions on abortion.
Buescher said when he ran for office he took positions on the issues, just as members of the Senate Judiciary Committee did.
"The bottom line is, I will absolutely enforce and apply Roe v. Wade. It's Supreme Court precedent in the United States. It is a landmark decision that I will abide by, and as a District Court judge in Nebraska, that is my role and that is my obligation," he said.
First, Buescher, who grew up on a farm near Deweese, briefly introduced his wife, Elaine, and four of his five children who were there.
And Nebraska Sens. Deb Fischer and Ben Sasse took turns saying why they chose the man who leads the agribusiness litigation team at the Kutak Rock law firm to fill the position of Chief Judge Laurie Smith Camp, who will go on senior status Dec. 1.
President Donald Trump nominated him based on their recommendation.
Fischer said Buescher's wide-ranging litigation — in state and federal courts in Nebraska, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court — has honed his legal skills and prepared him well for the judgeship.
"He is a man of the highest ethical standards," she said. "I am confident that he will be an excellent judge to fill the vacancy and uphold the Constitution equally and fairly."
Sasse called him a "Nebraskan through and through."
"And in Nebraska we maintain a commitment to the rule of law and to the Constitution, and Brian evidences that," he said.
In the questioning phase, Sasse asked Buescher, if he's confirmed and one day looking back on his time on the bench, if he would be satisfied with his work if he hadn't advocated for his policy preferences.
"If I'm so fortunate to be confirmed to the bench, my personal views no longer matter, what matters is applying the law in federal statute and also enforcing the United States Constitution as written. And my personal beliefs are checked at the door," Buescher answered.
The exchange hinted at questions that followed from Sens. Blumenthal and Mazie Hirono, both Democrats.
Blumenthal, of Connecticut, asked about views Buescher expressed while running for office in 2014. At the time, he described himself as avidly pro-life, advocated for going against abortion bit by bit, and said he believed it never was permissible to abort a baby even to save the mother's life.
He was asked if he thought the Supreme Court should go after Roe v. Wade bit by bit.
Buescher said as a federal district court judge he would have to apply Supreme Court precedent, including Roe v. Wade.
"I believe in the role of the federal judiciary," he said. "It's not to do what I want to do or what I would like to do or what someone else would like to do. It's to do what the law and the United States Constitution requires."
Hirono, the senator from Hawaii, asked Buescher if he would recuse himself if cases came before him raising the question of a woman's right to choose, given his strongly held personal views.
"They don't suddenly go away simply because you become a judge," she said.
Buescher said he would evaluate each on a case-by-case basis, but that he would have no problem personally applying precedent, including Roe v. Wade.
Hirono said: "I need to have a level of assurance that you will be able to be fair. But it is very clear that Roe v. Wade leaves judges quite a lot of room at the lower courts in order to make certain decisions."
She also asked Buescher about laws being proposed around the country seeking to limit abortion rights and about other recent decisions regarding religious rights.
He said a variety of issues can and will come before him if he's fortunate enough to be confirmed.
"And I don't feel it's appropriate under the judicial canons to opine or state how I would consider issues that very well may come in front of the district court," Buescher said.
The Judiciary Committee will vote later about whether to send his nomination to the floor of the Senate for a confirmation vote.