WASHINGTON — Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch distanced himself Wednesday from disparaging comments President Trump has made about the federal judiciary.
In a private meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., the federal appeals court judge called Trump’s attacks “demoralizing” and “disheartening,” a member of his advisory team confirmed. The comments — made during the type of courtesy call that seldom makes news — quickly went viral.
“He certainly expressed to me that he is disheartened by the demoralizing and abhorrent comments made by President Trump about the judiciary,” Blumenthal said.
Trump’s attacks, in tweets and public remarks, began last weekend after a federal district court judge blocked his executive order imposing a temporary travel ban on immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries and refugees. They escalated Wednesday in reaction to Tuesday’s live-streamed oral arguments before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
Gorsuch’s comments were solicited after Trump suggested Wednesday that judges have acted politically — something Gorsuch says he has eschewed in his decade-long career on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
“I don’t ever want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased, and we haven’t had a decision yet,” Trump told a group of sheriffs and police chiefs in discussing the travel ban case pending before the San Francisco-based appeals court.
“But courts seem to be so political,” Trump said, adding, “Right now we are at risk because of what’s happened.”
Previously, Trump had called federal District Judge James Robart of Seattle, who first blocked the travel ban nationwide, a “so-called judge” and said he would be to blame “if something happens.”
Liberal groups have called on Gorsuch to show his independence in light of Trump’s attacks on the judicial branch. Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Wednesday “the burden is on Gorsuch to prove that he would uphold the independence of the court and not be a rubber stamp for the president who appointed him.”
Blumenthal added his voice to that chorus Wednesday. “Behind closed doors, Judge Gorsuch expressed disappointment with President Trump’s attacks on the judiciary,” he said. “But a Supreme Court justice must prove that he has the courage and independence to stand up to a president in public.”
Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 that banned for 90 days citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from entering the country, and permanently banned those from Syria. The order also halted the flow of refugees for 120 days.
Robart halted the policy last Friday, citing “immediate and irreparable injury” to foreigners with valid visas and green cards. The Justice Department appealed to the 9th Circuit, which heard oral arguments Tuesday and is expected to issue a ruling Thursday or Friday. During the arguments, all three judges questioned whether the extraordinary steps were the president’s sole prerogative.
The Trump administration contends that the president has authority under the Constitution and congressional statute to control immigration for national security purposes. They point to a 1952 law that allows a president to bar entry to immigrants or classes of immigrants if the president deems them to be “detrimental to the interests of the United States.”
As a fallback, the Justice Department’s August Flentje suggested on Tuesday that the president’s executive order could be scaled back to allow immigrants from the affected countries who have already spent time in the U.S. to continue traveling without restrictions. The ban would still apply to visa holders from the affected countries who have not yet entered the U.S.