Yesterday, President Donald Trump announced his intent to nominate Judge Amul Thapar to one of two open seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. For Bench Memos readers, this should come as no surprise. Judge Thapar is currently a federal district court judge in Kentucky, and previously served as a federal prosecutor. His nomination was urged by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
1972—Who knew that contraception had such generative power? A mere seven years after Justice Douglas’s majority opinion in Griswold v. Connecticut (see This Day for June 7, 1965) holds that married persons have a right to contraception hidden in the “penumbras” and “emanations” surrounding a right to marital privacy, Justice Brennan’s majority opinion in Eisenstadt v. Baird extends that right to unmarried persons. Dismissing as immaterial the marital relationship that Douglas had posited to be pivotal, Brennan, in a wondrous bit of bootstrapping, uses the Griswold holding as the basis for an equal-protection ruling (“whatever the rights of the individual to access to contraceptives may be, the rights must be the same for the unmarried and the married alike”) that undermines the very foundation of Griswold.
Brennan’s hijinx don’t end there. With Roe v. Wade already pending (it was first argued in December 1971), Brennan smuggles into his Eisenstadt opinion this assertion: “If the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.” One year later, Justice Blackmun’s majority opinion in Roe quotes this passage immediately before declaring that “[t]hat right necessarily includes the right of a woman to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy.”
I’ll be doing little if any live blogging during Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation testimony, as Twitter, for all its faults, seems a vehicle better suited for instant responses.
My Twitter handle is @EdWhelanEPPC. I also invite you to consult my repository of commentary on the Gorsuch nomination, collected on this single page (to enable ease of searching for cases or topics).
NPR reported yesterday that Jennifer Sisk, a “former law student of Judge Neil Gorsuch, … alleges that that in a course she took from Gorsuch at the University of Colorado Law School last year, the judge told his class that employers, specifically law firms, should ask women seeking jobs about their plans for having children and implied that women manipulate companies starting in the interview stage to extract maternity benefits.”
But a slew of students who took the same ethics course from Gorsuch—some in the same class as Sisk—are powerfully refuting her claim. From their accounts, it seems quite clear that Sisk (who has Democratic ties) was misunderstanding Gorsuch’s devil’s-advocate posturing of hypotheticals.
In a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Baker Arena, a student in the same class as Sisk and a self-described “liberal feminist Democrat,” explains:
In the Legal Ethics class I took from Judge Gorsuch, the textbook we used contained numerous hypothetical ethical dilemmas that attorneys could potentially face in their practice. Judge Gorsuch would use these dilemmas in the textbook in his lectures to illustrate the fact that there are few black and white solutions to the ethical issues attorneys face daily. Adept at challenging the views of students (and sometimes frustratingly so), Judge Gorsuch would use the Socratic method and play devils advocate in his lectures as the class debated the appropriate course of action to confront the ethical issues at hand. If a valid point was made in favor of one course of action, he would present counterfactual points to illustrate the compelling arguments in favor of another course of action. Through the constant debate of ethical dilemmas that semester, we left with a greater appreciation of the nuances attorneys must account for in making ethical decisions consistent with our code of professional responsibility.
I was present in the class at issue and sat directly in front of the accusing student. I recall the hypothetical ethical dilemma discussed in the lecture that day. In that hypothetical ethical dilemma, a female law student, suffering financial hardship, is asked at an interview if she planned on having children and using the firms maternity leave policies. The female student in the hypothetical was planning on having children but nervous to tell the potential employer, for fear she might not get the position. Judge Gorsuch began to lead the class in debate as to what the appropriate course of action should be for the female law student. Judge Gorsuch made compelling points about the numerous issues and subtle discrimination women face in the workplace that many men are oblivious to. In fact, as a man, I had never really considered the extent of pregnancy related discrimination that women face in the workplace until this very class. True to form (and the Socratic teaching style), Judge Gorsuch also presented counterarguments presenting the hardships employers face due to paid maternity leave policies, which I, as a liberal feminist Democrat, as well as the majority of my colleagues rejected.
During Judge Gorsuch’s presentation of such counterarguments, I do not recall him accusing women of taking advantage of paid maternity leave policies, much less espousing such accusations as his personal beliefs. In class and in our conversations outside of class, Judge Gorsuch was always extremely respectful, inclusive, tolerant and open-minded. Additionally, Judge Gorsuch’s never shared his personal views on legal or ethical matters in class and was somewhat of an enigma. Had he made the statements he is accused of making, I would have surely noticed as they would be out of his character and had he said such things, I potentially would have even said something to him concerning these statements. That is not the Judge Gorsuch I know.
Ruthie Goff, who took Judge Gorsuch’s legal ethics class in 2015, writes (link to come):
I purposefully took Ethics with [Judge Gorsuch], because I wanted to be pushed and challenged on the difficult questions I would face as a woman entering the legal community. That’s exactly what his class did. Judge Gorsuch asked tough and sometimes uncomfortable questions, and I appreciated every one of them.…
One such scenario asked us to consider whether or not an employer can ethically ask a female applicant if she plans to have a family soon. At first, I thought absolutely not because that’s not fair nor can that be ethical. The discussion proceeded much in that way until Judge Gorsuch finally revealed employers are not prohibited from asking that question but only from making the final decision based on that answer. That’s the rule and the law. As much as I disagreed, I understood why the Judge pushed us so hard. The point was to get us to understand that the law will challenge us to resolve difficult issues in ways that we may not agree with, but in a way we have a legal and ethical duty to do so. During this discussion, I never felt as though he was expressing his personal belief regarding the scenario but was doing his job in remaining neutral and guiding us to an understanding of how we must sometimes divest ourselves of personal beliefs in order to apply the rules of ethics and the rule of law.”
Will Hauptman, who was also in the same legal ethics class as Sisk, has also written to the Committee to “refute the … veracity” of Sisk’s claim:
Although Judge Gorsuch did discuss some of the topics mentioned in [Sisk’s] letter, he did not do so in the manner described. The judge frequently asked us to consider the various challenges we would face as new attorneys. Among those challenges were balancing our desire to perform public service with our need to pay off student loan debt, and the tension between building a career in a time-intensive profession and starting a family and raising children—especially for women. The judge was very matter-of-fact in that we would face difficult decisions; he himself recalled working late nights when he had a young child with whom he wished to share more time. The seriousness with which the judge asked us to consider these realities reflected his desire to make us aware of them, not any animus against a career or group. And despite the soberness that these topics sometimes imparted on the class, our conversations were always respectful and cordial.
It is clear that my classmate and I have a different account of what happened in class. But had Judge Gorsuch truly made the statements described in the letter, I would remember—the statements would have greatly upset me. And I would not be writing you in support of the judge if I felt he would not treat all people with equal dignity.
Jordan Henry, a female student who took Judge Gorsuch’s ethics class in the fall of 2016 (one semester after Sisk), tells the Committee that Sisk’s allegations “in no way reflect my experience with Judge Gorsuch as a professor and a mentor.” In what seems like a discussion of the same textbook hypothetical, Henry writes:
I recall a day in class that was devoted to diversity and some of the issues that face women and others in the profession. The textbook noted that there is a lot of attrition among women lawyers. Judge Gorsuch encouraged discussion on this point and asked students to share their experiences. I shared an experience where I was asked about family planning in a job interview and the overriding concern seemed to be whether I would need maternity leave. Judge Gorsuch thanked me for sharing my experience and used it to demonstrate that gender inequality in the profession was not just theoretical, but something that may occur to the classmate sitting next to us. He prepared us to confront these issues when they arise.
Catherine Holgrewe, who took Judge Gorsuch’s ethics class, has issued this statement (link to come):
Judge Gorsuch was an exemplary professor and treated every student with absolute respect. He took an active interest in our educational and professional success. Judge Gorsuch always made time in his busy schedule to further discuss class materials and offer professional advice and support. I have never heard Judge Gorsuch ever speak disrespectfully to or about anyone. As a former student, I am a witness to the respect that he showed towards his female students and fellow professors at Colorado Law. The supposed remarks he made in his 2016 Legal Ethics class are completely out of character and I find very hard to believe are accurately relayed.
Nathan Davis, another student in Sisk’s class and “a life-long Democrat,” attests (link to come):
I have no recollection of Judge Gorsuch acting in the manner described in the letter, nor do I remember Judge Gorsuch making any insensitive or chauvinistic remarks at any point during the semester. I was fully aware that my professor was a federal judge and am certain that I would recall such outlandish behavior. Nothing I witnessed at any point gives me any reason to question Judge Gorsuch’s moral fitness to serve on the Supreme Court.
Kate Waller, who took classes in both legal ethics and antitrust from Judge Gorsuch, states (link to come):
[Judge Gorsuch] never demonstrated anything but the utmost respect and integrity for all students and viewpoints. Judge Gorsuch believed in unbiased, well-reasoned arguments, and never appealed to emotions or politics.
While I was not in the class during which the alleged incident occurred, I can unequivocally say that I never witnessed him make any discriminatory statements about women or other minorities, nor demean or belittle anyone. He expected his students to appeal to logic and he demonstrated the same levelheaded, apolitical focus on reason over emotion.
Glen Matthews writes (link to come) of Judge Gorsuch’s ethics course:
Every week Judge Gorsuch did what was expected from him in the Ethics class he taught at the University of Colorado School of Law. I was a student in his class my final semester of law school. During each class, he posed provocative legal ethical questions and hypotheticals to his class. The class at issue was no different in that we explored difficult issues and topics that affect nearly all parents in the legal profession; specifically, how will the obligations of being an attorney impact my ability to effectively parent? Additionally, we discussed the ethical implications, if any, of applicants applying for jobs while knowing they were soon planning to start or expand their families.
The tone and tenor of that discussion seemed similar to ethical discussions we had about disclosing a client’s secrets after their death, or how the rising cost of a legal education creates a disincentive to enter public service. The point of this class was to explore difficult ethical questions—questions with no easy answers. Judge Gorsuch’s comments in this instance were in keeping with the dilemmas posed, which were admittedly difficult, and were not inappropriate or demonstrating bias.
2011—In Amnesty International v. Clapper, a Second Circuit panel rules that attorneys, journalists, and labor, legal, media, and human rights organizations have standing to bring an action facially challenging the constitutionality of a provision of federal law that creates new procedures for authorizing foreign electronic surveillance. The plaintiffs have standing, the panel rules, because the new procedures “cause them to fear that their communications will be monitored, and thus force them to undertake costly and burdensome measures to protect the confidentiality of international communications necessary to carrying out their jobs.”
As surveillance expert Orin Kerr puts it, “If this new decision is right, then challenging secret surveillance statutes would seem to be pretty easy—in stark contrast with the previous understanding that it was extremely difficult.”
In September 2011, the Second Circuit will deny rehearing en banc on an evenly divided 6-6 vote. The dissenters condemn the panel’s rule as contrary to Supreme Court precedent, and Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs adds:
“As best I can see, the only purpose of this litigation is for counsel and plaintiffs to act out their fantasy of persecution, to validate their pretensions to policy expertise, to make themselves consequential rather than marginal, and to raise funds for self-sustaining litigation.”
Two years later, the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, will reverse the panel ruling on the ground that plaintiffs’ theory of future injury “relies on a highly attenuated chain of possibilities” and was thus too speculative to satisfy Article III’s standing requirement.
2012—By a vote of five to four, the Supreme Court rules in Lafler v. Cooper that a habeas petitioner who received a full and fair trial may nonetheless pursue a claim that his attorney’s allegedly incompetent advice regarding a plea-bargaining offer deprived him of his (supposed) Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel. Never mind (among other things) that assurance of a fair trial is what the right to effective assistance of counsel had been thought to protect and that the petitioner, having received a fair trial, therefore did not suffer any constitutional injury.
The majority’s “squeamishness in fashioning a remedy, and the incoherence of what it comes up with,” argues Justice Scalia in dissent, signal “its realization, deep down, that there is no real constitutional violation here anyway.”
2014—After encouraging plaintiffs, a same-sex couple, to recast their challenge to state adoption laws as a challenge to state marriage laws, federal district judge Bernard A. Friedman rules (in DeBoer v. Snyder) that the Michigan constitutional amendment that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman is not “rationally related to any conceivable legitimate governmental interest.” Despite the fact that the Supreme Court, in the preceding month, had intervened to block a similar ruling against another state’s marriage laws from taking effect during the appellate process, Friedman refuses even to stay his own ruling pending appeal. (The Sixth Circuit, one day later, will stay Friedman’s ruling.)
After Judge Gorsuch has answered all the inevitable questions about the right to an abortion and the right to assisted suicide, maybe just for fun he could be asked about some rights that are actually in the Constitution, like the takings clause and the contracts clause, for example. George Leef has some thoughts on them here and here.
As I explained last week, the Ginsburg Standard means that a Supreme Court nominee should refuse to answer any question about whether a particular precedent was rightly decided (except in those rare instances in which it’s clear that the meaning or scope of that precedent will not be at issue in any case that might come before the Court.
At her confirmation hearing, Justice Elena Kagan adopted exactly this approach: “I do not think it would be appropriate for me to comment on the correctness of a precedent of the Court.” (Written responses, answer to Sessions question #14.) When asked to “name the more poorly reasoned Supreme Court case, in your view, of the last fifty years” (emphasis added), she replied:
I do not think it would be appropriate for me to grade recent decisions of the Supreme Court, as the status of those cases as precedent and their application to new factual circumstances are issues that may come before the Court. One relatively recent decision (although not in the last 50 years) that was poorly reasoned and that is unlikely to come before the Court again is Korematsu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214 (1944). [Answer to Cornyn question #22 (emphasis added).]
Time after time during oral questioning and in her written responses, she refused invitations to express her opinion on dozens of cases.
As we prepare for the latest Supreme Court confirmation hearing process, it seems appropriate to recall these important lines of inquiry from recent confirmation hearings:
“Judge Ginsburg, the president who nominated you has been accused of carrying on a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers and in an 60-minutes interview admitted he had caused ‘pain in his marriage.’ How do you square your role as a defender of women’s rights with the many reports of his infidelity?”
“Judge Breyer, earlier this year President Clinton was sued for sexual harassment by Paula Jones and has been engaged in a smear campaign against his accuser. I want to give you the opportunity to distance yourself from this scandal-ridden administration – would you like to comment?”
“General Kagan, President Obama ignited controversy at this year’s State of the Union address by publicly taking the Supreme Court to task for a decision he disagreed with. Do you feel it’s appropriate for a sitting President to use the authority of his office to criticize decisions with which he disagrees?”
If you don’t have a vivid recollection of any of those questions, it’s no surprise. Those types of explorations of a Supreme Court nominee’s commentary on political questions and debates have never actually come up because they are entirely inappropriate during the confirmation process. Many presidents have said and done controversial things in the past, but never have their judicial nominees been called to account for them.
Senate Democrats appear ready to take the judicial confirmation process to a new low in this area. Senator Schumer has already criticized Judge Gorsuch for not responding to questions they both know he cannot ethically comment on as a sitting federal judge (as Ed Whelan has discussed). And Senators Klobuchar, Leahy, and Schumer have tested out the idea that Gorsuch’s commitment to judicial independence should have to meet an artificially high standard.
But this criticism of Gorsuch’s independence is part of a long line of attacks that don’t get traction against the judge because they are completely at odds with his record. Democratic efforts to cherry-pick Gorsuch’s record to find cases that went against sympathetic parties were roundly denounced as misguided, misleading, and inconsistent with the judge’s full record on the bench. It’s profoundly ironic that the same people who lauded Merrick Garland’s nomination – a judge whose jurisprudence was characterized by exceptional deference to the executive branch – are now concerned that Gorsuch is insufficiently independent, when his record on the bench shows him to be an outspoken critic of deference to the executive branch and a stickler for maintaining the constitutional limits on government power. They should be applauding Gorsuch’s approach to presidential power, not trying to trap him in gotcha questions no judge should be expected to entertain.
But even if these attacks were not so silly in light of Gorsuch’s own record, they should be universally rejected as inappropriate for a judicial hearing. A sitting judge should not be asked to wade into the political swamp. The focus of this week’s hearings should be his record, and he shouldn’t be asked to weigh in on criticism of President Trump any more than he should be asked his opinion of Obama’s thinly-veiled threats against the Court or Bill Clinton’s sexual exploitation of Monica Lewinsky and his subsequent character assassination of the intern he seduced.
I hope Judge Gorsuch will maintain the dignity of his judicial office by passing on this line of questioning, even if some Senators decide to degrade the dignity of their office by engaging in it.
1957—President Eisenhower’s nomination of William J. Brennan, Jr. to serve on the Supreme Court is confirmed by the Senate. Brennan, a former New Jersey supreme court justice, is already serving on the Court by virtue of Eisenhower’s October 1956 recess appointment of him. Eisenhower’s selection of Brennan—which Eisenhower later identifies as one of his two biggest mistakes as president (see This Day item for March 1, 1954)—is said to have resulted from a recommendation by his campaign advisers that an appointment of a Catholic Democrat from the Northeast would attract critical voters. So much for basing Supreme Court selections on short-term political calculations. In retrospect, that recommendation appears to have been as unnecessary as it was foolish: Eisenhower wins re-election over Adlai Stevenson by a huge margin, 57%-42% in the popular vote and 457 to 73 in the electoral college.
In his 34 years on the Court, Brennan deploys his impressive backroom political skills in the service of liberal judicial activism. It is doubtful that anyone has done more to misshape the Supreme Court’s understanding of the Constitution.
1963— As Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel write in Justice Brennan, this day stands out among all others as the day when Justice Brennan’s “new majority”—resulting from Arthur Goldberg’s replacement of Felix Frankfurter—“flexed its muscles”: “The liberal bloc overturned four of the Court’s long-standing precedents” on a single day.
In Fay v. Noia and Townsend v. Sain, in (as Justice Harlan puts it in his dissent in Fay) a “square rejection of long-accepted principles governing the nature and scope of the Great Writ,” the Court dramatically expands the federal habeas corpus rights of state prisoners. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court, overruling its 1942 decision in Betts v. Brady, holds that the Constitution requires that states provide counsel for indigent defendants in all criminal trials. And in Gray v. Sanders, the Court rushes deeper into the thicket of state redistricting, as it adopts a theory of political equality that it had previously rejected.
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Here are the basics, as I understand them, of next week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch. (I’ve compiled my writings on the Gorsuch nomination on this single page, to enable easy review and searches.)
The hearing will last four days, from Monday through Thursday.
Monday’s session, which will begin at 11 a.m., will consist entirely of opening statements by senators. There are 20 senators on the committee, so at
15 10 minutes per senator, that’s five more than three hours of opening statements. Judge Gorsuch will then make his opening statement.
Judge Gorsuch’s testimony will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday. Senators will each have a first round of 30-minute Q&As, so that will take ten hours (not counting breaks). Chairman Grassley will open, followed by ranking member Feinstein, and then alternating back and forth between Republicans and Democrats—Hatch, Leahy, Graham, Durbin, Cornyn, Whitehouse, Lee, Klobuchar, Cruz, Franken, Sasse, Coons, Flake, Blumenthal, Crapo, Hirono—and then finishing with the two most junior Republicans on the committee, Tillis and Kennedy. I doubt that the first round will be completed on Tuesday.
The committee will then have a second round of questioning, which might be as long as 20 minutes per senator (or nearly seven hours total). That second round should be completed on Wednesday.
On Thursday (or perhaps starting late Wednesday), the various panels of witnesses will testify.
1992—By order of a trial court, the sponsors of the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston are required to allow the Irish-American Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston to participate in their parade. In 1994, in an error of judicial passivism, the Massachusetts supreme court rules that the parade is not an exercise of First Amendment rights and that compelling the parade organizers to comply with state law banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation did not raise any significant First Amendment issue. In 1995, in Hurley v. Irish-American Gay Group of Boston, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously reverses: “The selection of contingents to make a parade is entitled to [First Amendment] protection.”
2009—President Obama makes his first federal appellate nomination as he selects district judge David F. Hamilton for a Seventh Circuit seat. Among the distinctions in the judicial record of the former ACLU activist are an extraordinary seven-year-long series of rulings (ultimately reversed by the Seventh Circuit) obstructing Indiana’s implementation of its law providing for informed consent on abortion; a reckless invocation of substantive due process to suppress evidence of violation of drug laws (also reversed by the Seventh Circuit); a ruling barring Indiana’s House of Representatives from permitting invocations that refer to “Christ” but permitting invocations by Muslim imams that refer to “Allah” (reversed, for lack of standing, by the Seventh Circuit); and a reputation among criminal defense lawyers as the most lenient judge in the district. All of which, of course, leads the New York Times to proclaim Hamilton a “moderate”!
A follow-up to yesterday’s post on the Ginsburg Standard:
As then-Judge Ginsburg explained at her confirmation hearing (transcript here), her record of opinions, law-review articles, speeches, and briefs provided the “most tangible, reliable indicator of [her] attitude, outlook, approach, and style” as a judge. Insofar as the hearing sought “helpful clarifications” of that record, it served a useful and legitimate purpose. But insofar as it instead sought to induce her to offer “forecasts” or “hints” about how she might rule in cases that might come before her, she regarded herself as ethically bound not to provide any such forecasts or hints.
Adhering steadfastly to the Ginsburg Standard is not easy, as Ginsburg herself observed: “I appreciate now more than ever how difficult it is for the [nominee] to maintain that line [i.e., the line ‘between judicial philosophy and votes in particular cases’] and not pass beyond it into forecasting or giving hints about votes in particular cases.” Part of the reason that steadfast adherence isn’t easy is that it’s politically tempting to win praise for endorsing popular precedents and for criticizing unpopular ones. (Some Democrats have argued that Ginsburg didn’t live up to her stated standard; as I explained way back during the Roberts nomination, that would be an indictment of Ginsburg, not an argument against the Ginsburg Standard.)
When senators ask a Supreme Court nominee to state whether the nominee believes that a particular precedent was rightly decided, they are either (a) seeking to have the nominee offer a hint on how the nominee would rule in a case that arguably involves the meaning or scope of that precedent on a matter that involve, or (b) using the precedent as a proxy for exploring the nominee’s judicial philosophy. Even when the inquiring senator has the latter motivation, answering the question risks giving a hint and thus violating the Ginsburg Standard.* Plus, there are plenty of other available means to explore the nominee’s judicial philosophy.
In short, the most sensible and principled way to apply the Ginsburg Standard is to refuse to answer any question about whether a particular precedent was rightly decided, except in those rare instances in which it’s clear that the meaning or scope of that precedent will not be at issue in any case that might foreseeably come before the Court.
An additional reason to take this approach is that appellate judges decide cases by reading briefs, conducting oral argument, and conferring with each other. But a question whether a judge believes that a particular precedent was rightly decided seeks to shortcut this deliberative process, and answering that question (in the absence of careful study of the case) gives the impression that judging is little more than picking the results one likes.
* Linda Greenhouse misses this elementary point when she oh-so-cleverly advises senators: “Don’t accept the standard nominee response that ‘I can’t answer because that question might come before the court.’ It has already come before the court.” (Emphasis in original.)
The headline above surely isn’t as attention-grabbing, much less as conspiracy-mongering, as the actual headline on this New York Times article—“Neil Gorsuch Has Web of Ties to Secretive Billionaire”—but it does strike me as markedly more accurate.
For starters, the article itself describes the billionaire in question, Philip F. Anschutz, merely as “publicity-shy” rather than “secretive.” And if the NYT reporters wanted to learn more about Mr. Anschutz, they might have been able to get a useful lead or two from their own editorial-page editor James Bennet, whose brother, current Colorado senator Michael Bennet, worked for Anschutz for years.
But, more importantly, here’s the core of what the supposed “web of ties” between Gorsuch and Anschutz is alleged to consist of:
As a lawyer at a Washington law firm in the early 2000s, Judge Gorsuch represented Mr. Anschutz, his companies and lower-ranking business executives as an outside counsel. In 2006, Mr. Anschutz successfully lobbied Colorado’s lone Republican senator and the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court. And since joining the court, Judge Gorsuch has been a semiregular speaker at the mogul’s annual dove-hunting retreats for the wealthy and politically prominent at his 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch.
1. The article’s claim that Mr. Anschutz “successfully lobbied … the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court” strikes me as curious phrasing. To be sure, a lawyer for Anschutz sent a letter on his behalf to the White House recommending that Gorsuch be nominated. But are we really supposed to believe that the Bush White House, on the lookout for bright young conservatives to appoint to the federal bench, had to be “lobbied” by Anschutz to select Gorsuch?
Gorsuch, after all, was serving at the time in the Department of Justice as the principal deputy associate attorney general. As a former D.C. Circuit and Supreme Court law clerk who practiced law in D.C., he was well known in conservative legal circles. And as a native Coloradan and former clerk to Byron White, he was an obvious pick for the Tenth Circuit vacancy that opened up in Denver.
As it happens, someone in the Bush administration who was very involved in the process that led to the nomination of Gorsuch tells me that, as far as he recalls, Anschutz’s name never came up during the process. What he does recall is that the idea to nominate Gorsuch arose during the normal interplay between the White House Counsel’s office and senior DOJ leadership, and that both the White House and DOJ immediately responded enthusiastically.
2. The article’s claim that Mr. Anschutz “sought to secure [the Tenth Circuit seat] for [Gorsuch]” sounds nefarious. But it’s far more plausible that Anschutz simply recognized Gorsuch to be, as the letter puts it, “an exceptionally talented lawyer” who would make an excellent judge.
What, after all, could possibly have been in it for Anschutz? He lost his past (and potential future) lawyer to the Tenth Circuit, where Gorsuch (as Anschutz and his top legal team would surely have foreseen) regularly recused himself from all matters involving Anschutz and his companies. That’s hardly the stuff of a conspiracy.
Disclosure: As its publicly available tax returns show, the Anschutz Foundation has generously supported the Ethics and Public Policy Center, the think tank I run. For example, this return—the most recent I have been able to find quickly in searchable format—reflects a $20,000 contribution in 2012.
In her opening statement at her 1993 confirmation hearing (transcript here), Ruth Bader Ginsburg explained that she could “offer no forecasts, no hints” on how she might rule on issues that might come before the Supreme Court:
You are well aware that I come to this proceeding to be judged as a judge, not as an advocate. Because I am and hope to continue to be a judge, it would be wrong for me to say or to preview in this legislative chamber how I would cast my vote on questions the Supreme Court may be called upon to decide. Were I to rehearse here what I would say and how I would reason on such questions, I would act injudiciously.
Judges in our system are bound to decide concrete cases, not abstract issues. Each case comes to court based on particular facts and its decision should turn on those facts and the governing law, stated and explained in light of the particular arguments the parties or their representatives present. A judge sworn to decide impartially can offer no forecasts, no hints, for that would show not only disregard for the specifics of the particular case, it would display disdain for the entire judicial process. [Emphasis added.]
As she put it later in responding to a question about possible constitutional protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation:
I cannot address that question without violating what I said had to be my rule about no hints, no forecasts, no previews. [Emphasis added.]
Instead, she explained, the Senate should “judge [her] qualifications principally on [her] written record” of judicial rulings, briefs, and articles,” and she was happy to discuss those at her hearing.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s press conference today (ongoing as I write this) with supposed victims of Judge Gorsuch’s principled judicial decisionmaking is a stupid stunt that highlights that so many on the Left have a completely results-oriented approach to judging.
Liberal Harvard law professor Noah Feldman soundly denounces this whole line of attack as a “truly terrible idea” that contradicts the “whole point of a rule-of-law system.” As Feldman explains, the rule of law means that judges are “to decide cases under the law, not based on preferences for individuals.”
Schumer himself used to understand this (or at least to pretend to). Indeed, his opening statement at Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing (see pages 24-25 of transcript) is replete with praise for her “hew[ing] carefully to the text of statutes, even when doing so results in rulings that go against sympathetic litigants”:
[S]he has ruled for the government in 83 percent of immigration cases against the immigration plaintiff, she has ruled for the government in 92 percent of criminal cases, she has denied race claims in 83 percent of cases and has split evenly on employment cases between employer and employee.…
In a case involving a New York police officer who made white supremacist remarks, she upheld his right to make them.
In a case brought by plaintiffs who claimed they had been bumped from a plane because of race, she dismissed their case because the law required it.
So why is Schumer abandoning the rule of law in attacking the Gorsuch nomination?
The Judicial Conference of the United States is recommending that Congress create several dozen additional seats on the federal judiciary. Specifically, the Judicial Conference is calling for the creation of five new seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and 52 federal district court seats in parts of the country that have seen a dramatic increase in filings. The Conference also suggests that Congress could leave one seat open on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, due to a low caseload. According to the Judicial Conference, Congress has not enacted “comprehensive judgeship legislation” in over twenty-five years.
Were Congress to follow the Judicial Conference’s advice, this would give President Trump more judicial seats to fill, primarily on federal district courts. I doubt that Congress is in any rush to increase the size of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, however. That Court is already an unwieldy size. A more likely — and, perhaps, more controversial — course would be to create new appellate judgeships in conjunction with splitting the Ninth Circuit into two more-regular-sized courts, as has been proposed by Senator Jeff Flake, among others.
There are also members of Congress that wish to add seats to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in part to rebalance the court after then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid forced through all of President Obama’s nominations to the court. The problem with this idea is that the D.C. Circuit is in no need of additional judges. If anything, it has more than its current caseload requires. To be defensible, any increase in the D.C. Circuit’s size would have to be combined with an expansion of its jurisdiction. In all likelihood, the D.C. Circuit’s size will remain at eleven active judges.
1933—Ruth Joan Bader is born in Brooklyn, New York. At her Supreme Court confirmation hearing sixty years later, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, defending the invention of a constitutional right to abortion, decries the fact that her mother did not have the legal right to kill her in utero: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself.”
2016—No plaintiff? So what?
Federal district judge Susan Dlott somehow sees fit to order Ohio’s secretary of state to keep polls open an extra hour in four counties. Dlott issues her order in response to phone calls that the clerk’s office received from unidentified individuals concerned that a serious accident on a bridge would prevent stranded motorists from voting. As the local paper notes, her action “came without a written complaint, a court hearing or a formal presentation of evidence that might show federal election laws were about to be violated.”
On review, a Sixth Circuit will rule that Dlott lacked jurisdiction because no plaintiff had standing. As Judge Jeffrey Sutton succinctly puts it, “There is no plaintiff with standing if there is no plaintiff.”
2011—Elevated by President Obama to the Ninth Circuit two months earlier, Mary H. Murguia still has damage to carry out as a federal district judge. In acquitting Elton Simpson of a charge of making a false statement involving international terrorism, Murguia does verbal somersaults to rule that the government did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Simpson’s discussions about traveling to Somalia were sufficiently related to international terrorism:
It is true that the Defendant had expressed sympathy and admiration for individuals who “fight” non-Muslims as well as his belief in the establishment of Shariah law, all over the world including in Somalia. What precisely was meant by “fighting” whenever he discussed it, however, was not clear. Neither was what the Defendant meant when he stated he wanted to get to the “battlefield” in Somalia.
Some four years later, in May 2015, Elton Simpson will launch a jihadist attack in Garland, Texas.
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