The teapot tempests are raging in DC over Judge Neil Gorsuch’s qualifications to become a Supreme Court Justice. Senate Democrats vied with Republican Senators for ideological supremacy yesterday, but the most ridiculous attack on the eminently qualified candidate appeared from an unanticipated source on Sunday.
Jennifer Sisk, a Denver attorney and former student of Judge Gorsuch at the University of Colorado law school wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee claiming that during a class on legal ethics and professionalism Judge Gorsuch “told the class that not only could a future employer ask female interviewees about their pregnancy and family plans, companies must ask females about their families and pregnancy plans to protect the company” because, Sisk says, “he asked the class…if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and then left right after having a baby.”
Her concern was that the “question was not about parents or men shifting priorities after having children. It was solely focused on women using their companies.” Sisk goes on to complain that “There was no discussion of the reasons women may leave employment when having children or the difficulties in raising young children and meeting the high billable hours required in law firms. Instead, Judge Gorsuch continued to steer the conversation back to the problems women pose for companies and the protections that companies need from women.”
She concluded by saying “I was distressed by the tenor of this conversation. I was surprised and upset that a bright, articulate, and educated federal judge could think so little of female attorneys, even more so considering that in that class half the students were female…It concerned me that a man educating female lawyers would be discounting their worth publicly. Now it concerns me that a man who is being considered for our highest court holds views that discounts the worth of working females.”
Oh horror of horrors! Let an eminent jurist present a hypothetical as a valid subject for discussion and debate on the subject of the actually knotty problem of women who do in fact take advantage of employers for precisely the reasons he articulates in a class on legal ethics and professionalism and all she can draw from the lesson is the narrow-minded conclusion that her instructor is some sort of anti-feminist sexist troglodyte.
It causes one to weep over the decline in the ability of law school students to think rationally and step outside their personal prejudices and biases for even a moment in order to learn something. What does that say about the quality of law students who eventually become lawyers?
What Judge Gorsuch was doing, as any rational, thinking person would know, was to play devil’s advocate in order to stimulate argument and reasoning among his students by posing an inflammatory position that challenges conventional liberal feminist wisdom that women can do whatever they want and are immune from both criticism and the law.
In response to a challenge by one student claiming that it’s illegal for an employer to inquire into a woman’s reproductive plans Judge Gorsuch stated that it is not illegal and is both reasonable and necessary for employers to do so because it happens to be true that some women (not all women as Sisk suggests) do in fact engage in what amounts to fraud against the employer in order to get legally-mandated maternity benefits.
In a class on legal ethics and professionalism for lawyers Judge Gorsuch used this controversy to inform students on the ethical pitfalls of maternity, something only women experience, from the perspective of attorneys and their employers. That Judge Gorsuch limited that particular class to the discussion of those ethical pitfalls as they apply only to women is hardly an indication that he’s a sexist or misogynist, it only means that in the limited time available to him he kept the class focused on his intended lesson, which had absolutely nothing whatever to do with discounting the worth of working females and everything to do with teaching students about ethical dilemmas that they might face as lawyers, who are a special class to whom this issue is of particular concern.
The obvious conclusion to be drawn from even this brief description of the class is that female lawyers should carefully consider their reproductive plans as a part of their chosen career path because they have a much greater ethical duty to their clients than a convenience store clerk does when it comes to abandoning their jobs in favor of having children. It is women, after all, who have the legal ability to do so under current law.
Sisk’s ire is both misplaced and indicative of an unwillingness to acknowledge either biology or the fact that in law school, professors make unpopular arguments for the purpose of stimulating debate and education, not as statements of personal policy or belief. To haul out this specious complaint in an attempt to impeach the integrity or character of Judge Gorsuch is an unconscionable attack by someone who seems more interested in advancing a personal political agenda than adhering to professional ethics or even simple courtesy and respect for someone who had the courage to try to educate her.