Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch privately told a Democratic senator that President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on judicial independence were “demoralizing” and “disheartening,” according to multiple reports.
The senator, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, told reporters about Gorsuch’s comments in a conference call Wednesday. “He said [the attacks] were demoralizing and disheartening—those were his words,” Blumenthal said, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Beth Reinhard. “I believe he has an obligation to make his views known more explicitly and unequivocally to the American people.”
A spokesperson for Gorsuch confirmed that he did in fact made those remarks, according to NBC.
The background is that, over the past week, Trump has tweeted repeated harsh criticism against Judge James Robart of Washington state for freezing his executive order blocking refugees and nationals of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the US, and has criticized the court system more generally.
The president called Robart a “so-called judge” who issued a “ridiculous” opinion that would be overturned, and at one point outright told the public to “blame him and court system” if “something happens.”
Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril. If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 5, 2017
On Wednesday morning, Trump continued in this vein, saying he found a federal appeals court hearing about the order “disgraceful” and that some judges couldn’t get basic concepts “a bad high school student would understand.”
Trump also, of course, infamously suggested during the campaign that Judge Gonzalo Curiel couldn’t fairly preside over a lawsuit against him because he was “of Mexican heritage.” He said: “I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest.”
It’s no surprise that a man gunning to sit on the Supreme Court wouldn’t respond favorably to attacks on judges. And it’s possible that this is part of a deliberate, White House-approved strategy to underscore Gorsuch’s independence from Trump and therefore help win Democratic support for his confirmation.
Still, considering how Trump tends to respond to criticism or perceived disloyalty, Gorsuch’s reported remarks raised some eyebrows. It’s worth noting that Trump can withdraw Gorsuch’s nomination at any time. The president has not yet commented on the matter.