Trump’s US Supreme Court pick dispirited by president’s tweets
WASHINGTON – Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, on Wednesday described as “demoralizing” and “disheartening” the US president’s Twitter attacks on a judge who suspended Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, a spokesman for Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch’s comments came as a federal appeals court in San Francisco was expected to decide in coming days on the narrow question of whether US District Judge James Robart acted properly in temporarily halting enforcement of Trump’s ban.
A Republican strategist hired by the White House to help guide Gorsuch’s nomination through the US Senate said that Gorsuch, himself an appeals court judge, used those words when he met with Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal.
Trump, who took office on Jan. 20, took to Twitter over the weekend to condemn the Friday night order by Robart that placed on hold the president’s Jan 27 temporary travel ban on people from the seven countries and all refugees.
Trump called Robart a “so-called judge” whose “ridiculous” opinion “essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country.” Trump’s administration appealed Robart’s ruling to a three-judge federal appeals panel, which heard oral arguments on Tuesday.
Presidents are usually hesitant to weigh in on judicial matters out of respect for the US Constitution, which ensures a separation of powers among the president’s executive branch, Congress and the judiciary.
The Republican-led Senate on Wednesday confirmed immigration hardliner Republican Senator Jeff Sessions to be the next attorney general despite strong Democratic opposition.
Trump says his executive order aims to head off attacks by Islamist militants. The order, the most divisive act of Trump’s young presidency, sparked protests and chaos at U.S. and overseas airports. Critics said the ban unfairly targeted people for their religion.
“I don’t ever want to call a court biased,” Trump told hundreds of police chiefs and sheriffs from major cities at a meeting in a Washington hotel on Wednesday. “So I won’t call it biased. And we haven’t had a decision yet. But courts seem to be so political.”
Trump nominated Gorsuch on Jan. 31 to succeed conservative Justice Antonin Scalia on the nine-member Supreme Court. Scalia died a year ago this month.
Blumenthal, a member of the Judiciary Committee that will hold a confirmation hearing on Gorsuch, said the nominee had a responsibility to reassure Americans that he would be an open-minded and independent jurist by going public with his concerns about Trump.
The appeals court decision on whether to reinstate the ban, will be just a first step in a fast-moving case.
The courts will ultimately have to address questions about the extent of the president’s power on matters of immigration and national security. Traditionally, judges have been extremely cautious about stepping on the executive branch’s authority in such matters, legal experts say, although some note that the implementation of Trump’s order presents unique issues.
Trump’s order barred travellers from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering for 90 days and all refugees for 120 days, except those from civil war-torn Syria, who are subject to an indefinite ban.
Also at issue is whether the order violates a provision of the U.S. Constitution that prohibits laws favouring one religion over another, along with relevant discrimination laws.