WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch told a U.S. senator Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s tweets about the judiciary are “demoralizing” and “disheartening.”
In a meeting with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Gorsuch, who’s largely been silent since Trump nominated him last week, took exception to Trump calling a federal judge in Seattle a “so-called judge” after blocking the president’s travel ban.
“He said very specifically that they were demoralizing and disheartening and he characterized them very specifically that way,” Blumenthal said of Gorsuch. “I said they were more than disheartening and I said to him that he has an obligation to make his views clear to the American people, so they understand how abhorrent or unacceptable President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary are.”
Ron Bonjean, who is leading communications for Gorsuch during the confirmation process, confirmed Gorsuch called Trump’s tweet about the “so-called judge” “disheartening” and “demoralizing” in his conversation with Blumenthal.
Trump’s comments could complicate the upcoming hearings for Gorsuch, who is certain to face questions about Trump’s tweets from Democrats. Liberals, already concerned with Gorsuch’s record, have also asked how he will demonstrate independence from the president.
But Gorsuch’s statement could help him with some moderate lawmakers. In the private meeting with Blumenthal, and in one with Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, Gorsuch seems to be trying to address the issue proactively.
Gorsuch told Schumer in a meeting Tuesday that an attack on his fellow judges is an attack on all, and he said he is incredibly disheartened when people attack his fellow judges, according to a source familiar with the discussion who paraphrased the judge’s comments. He also told Schumer that judges are used to being criticized and are no one’s lackeys.
Blumenthal, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he brought up examples of Trump’s recent rhetoric, including the tweets and the President’s criticism of the federal court Wednesday morning before law enforcement officials.
That’s when Gorsuch expressed disappointment in Trump’s comments, Blumenthal said. “He didn’t disagree with me on that point.”
“I said to him if a litigant before your court — and the President of the United States is in fact a litigant right now in the immigration ban cases — said what President Trump said, you would hold him in contempt of court,” Blumenthal said, adding that Gorsuch did not give a response to that comment.
Schumer spokesman Matt House said Gorsuch isn’t going far enough.
“Given the President’s comments, that a very milquetoast response,” House said. “Anyone can be disheartened, but the judge refused to condemn the comments privately or publicly.”
Gorsuch meeting with senators
Gorsuch, a federal appeals court judge from Colorado, has been meeting with senators on both sides of the aisle since being nominated last week.
Blumenthal said the two men met for 40 minutes in the senator’s office, where they discussed their shared running habits and “common love for the outdoors,” among more serious conversations about Gorsuch’s judicial views and background.
While Blumenthal described the meeting as “amicable,” he said he was “disappointed” in Gorsuch’s responses to his questions and felt he was not being forthcoming and specific enough. He said he was especially looking for more answers on Gorsuch’s thoughts about reproductive rights, workers’ rights and consumer protection issues.
Asked if Blumenthal is open to supporting Gorsuch, the senator said he will wait until after the Judiciary Committee holds hearings on Gorsuch’s nomination to make a final decision but that he has “serious and deep concerns” about him.
Blumenthal said he supports requiring a 60-vote threshold to confirm the Supreme Court nominee, and if he decides to oppose Gorsuch, Blumenthal said he will use “every tool” at his disposal to fight the nomination. Republicans need eight of their Democratic colleagues to break that threshold and prevent a filibuster.
Blumenthal was one of three Democratic senators that Gorsuch met with on Wednesday. He also sat down with Democratic Sens. Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — two states that Trump won.
Impact of Trump’s tweets
Trump’s tweets have disturbed many in the legal community. While it is not unusual for a president to disagree with a ruling from the Judicial Branch, Trump is using his Twitter account to call out individual judges while cases are being heard.
His “so-called judge” tweet came after Washington state-based federal Judge James Robart Friday blocked Trump’s executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries — Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen — from entering the US for 90 days. Trump’s order also blocked all refugees from entering 120 days and indefinitely halts refugees from Syria.
Trump has continued to call out Robart in the days since the ruling.
“Just cannot believe a judge would put our country in such peril,” Trump tweeted. “If something happens blame him and court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump tweeted.
The Trump administration has appealed Robart’s temporary restraining order. A panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday and is expected to rule this week.
Last summer, Trump also went after US District Court Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who was oveseeing a Trump University lawsuit. Although Curiel was born in Indiana, Trump said he was in an “absolute conflict” in presiding over litigation given that he was of “Mexican heritage.”
Trump’s comments also risk offending some current Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice John Roberts, who recently wrote about the importance of lower court judges. In his annual report last month, Roberts called judges “selfless, patriotic and brave,” and he said “this is no job for impulsive, timid or inattentive souls.”
“You might be asking,” Roberts wrote about life-tenured judges, “why any lawyer would want a job that requires long hours, exacting skill and intense devotion — while promising high stress, solitary confinement and guaranteed criticism.”
“The answer lies in the rewards of public service,” Roberts wrote.
Art Roderick, a CNN contributor and a retired US Marshal, noted that Trump should be “fully aware” of what kinds of threats the judiciary receives because the President’s own sister is a federal judge.
“Any time a federal judge receives a threat, the marshals investigate and provide the proper protection based on that threat,” Roderick said. “Anybody that has looked at what the US Marshals do has got to realize that an attack on any judge is an attack on the rule of law of the United States.”