Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal told reporters that Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s nominee to succeed the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, told him during a private meeting Wednesday that he found the president’s attacks on the federal judiciary “disheartening and demoralizing.”
In a statement after Blumenthal’s comments, Gorsuch spokesman Ron Bonjean confirmed the judge made the remarks to Blumenthal during their private meeting on Capitol Hill.
The senator went on to say he urged Gorsuch to make his misgivings public, though he declined.
“I asked Judge Gorsuch to make that statement publicly, and he declined,” Blumenthal said. “If he wants the American people to believe that he is truly independent, Judge Gorsuch must tell them in no uncertain terms that President Trump’s attacks are not just disappointing — they are abhorrent and destructive to our constitutional system.”
The comments are a surprising break with protocol. Typically nominees to the high court assiduously avoid wading into the political controversies of the day, given that such comments can alienate lawmakers.
The president was roundly criticized for referring to U.S. District Judge James Robart as a “so-called judge,” after Robart issued a temporary restraining order barring enforcement of key provisions of his executive order on refugees. The president has continued to express his displeasure with Robart and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which appears poised to uphold the district court order.
Former Sen. Kelly Ayotte, who is shepherding Gorsuch around Capitol Hill said in a statement that judicial ethics preclude him from commenting on specific matters.
“He has also emphasized the importance of an independent judiciary, and while he made clear that he was not referring to any specific case, he said that he finds any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence disheartening and demoralizing,” she added.
In the summer months of the general election cycle, Trump also criticized U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is presiding over a civil fraud lawsuit against the much-maligned Trump University, claiming his Mexican heritage constitutes a conflict of interest.
“I think it has to do with perhaps the fact that I’m very, very strong on the border,” Trump said of Curiel in a Fox News interview in February 2016. “Now, he is Hispanic, I believe. He is a very hostile judge to me.”
He doubled-down on the criticism in subsequent interviews.
“I’m building a wall. It’s an inherent conflict of interest,” he told The Wall Street Journal.
The White House has not yet commented on Gorsuch’s criticism.
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