Judge Neil Gorsuch sailed through the Senate’s judicial confirmation process in 2006, and that already has helped him fill out key paperwork now that lawmakers are scrutinizing his legal career again as a Supreme Court nominee.
Gorsuch, 49, has turned in a Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire with some portions apparently copied and pasted from a similar questionnaire from a decade ago, when the Senate confirmed him on a voice vote to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
There are new nuggets: Gorsuch describes President Donald Trump’s selection process. The Supreme Court hasn’t reversed any opinion he authored. And he won an award for exemplary legal writing.
While Gorsuch’s list of his most significant cases since taking the bench in 2006 includes a few that Democrats will point to as troubling signs about his judicial philosophy, there aren’t any surprises.
His responses on the questionnaire highlight the trouble Democrats might have if they want to oppose a Supreme Court nominee whose credentials made him an easy vote to a federal appeals court just a decade ago.
Here’s what else Gorsuch’s new questionnaire shows:
Trump put Gorsuch on a list of 21 potential Supreme Court picks in September, but Gorsuch didn’t hear from Trump until almost a month after the election.
Gorsuch reported that Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society who was assisting Trump with the search for the next justice, contacted him on Dec. 2.
Next, many people from Trump’s transition team who now have major roles in the White House met with him in person Jan. 5. He was first interviewed by Donald McGahn, now the White House counsel. He was also interviewed by Vice President Mike Pence, Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, Pence’s counsel Mark Paoletta and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus.
Gorsuch reported that Trump interviewed him in person Jan. 14 — six days before the inauguration — but he doesn’t say where that interview took place. Media pool reports from that day say Trump made an appearance at the food court in Trump Tower in New York City but make no mention of Gorsuch.
McGahn called Gorsuch on Jan. 27 to tell him that Trump intended to nominate him for the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia a year ago. Trump called Gorsuch on Jan. 30 with the news, and the announcement from the White House came the following day.
No alarms, no surprises
To a question about the general character of his law practice, Gorsuch’s 2017 answer is a word-for-word copy of the answer he gave in 2006.
The only thing he added this time was at the end: “In 2006, I was confirmed to serve as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.”
Gorsuch also didn’t change the list of his 10 most significant litigated matters from his 2006 confirmation, or their order. All the descriptions are word-for-word copies from that first questionnaire.
Gorsuch reported that he volunteered for various Republican political campaigns prior to becoming a judge, but never held an office in any campaign nor has he been on a host committee for a political event.
He volunteered for Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and participated in groups such as “Lawyers for Bush-Cheney.”
Gorsuch said he did not author any memorandum analyzing issues of law or public policy for any presidential transition team.
Gorsuch states he has not given media interviews since becoming an appeals court judge in 2006.
He was interviewed about the subject of assisted suicide by a radio station when he was in private practice, and interviewed by a Denver-area sports channel for a story about the career of Justice Byron R. White, the professional football player turned Supreme Court justice whom Gorsuch clerked for at the high court.
He said he did occasionally answer reporter questions before he became a judge, but usually as background information about an ongoing case.
When asked to list the most significant cases over which he presided as a judge, Gorsuch’s top case is one that has raised concerns from civil rights groups.
In the case Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch from last August, Gorsuch called for the Supreme Court to reconsider its 1984 ruling that created the Chevron doctrine, which requires federal courts to side with a regulatory agency’s interpretation of a statute unless it is unreasonable.
For progressive groups, overturning the Chevron doctrine would mean courts would no longer defer to agency experts when it comes to enforcing regulations about the environment, labor and more.
“In a separate concurrence, I questioned judicial deference to agency legal interpretations,” Gorsuch wrote in the Judiciary questionnaire. “My opinion noted that the Administrative Procedure Act vests the courts with the power and duty to interpret statutory provisions, that deferring to an agency’s interpretation may be in tension with Congress’s statutory directive, and that this practice may raise due process (fair notice) and separation of powers concerns.”
Gorsuch listed his net worth as $6.7 million in the questionnaire. His assets include $1.8 million in real estate, $1.4 million for his personal residence in Colorado and $391,082 for a mountain cabin. He owns $4.1 million in securities that are mostly municipal bonds and index funds that don’t trigger conflict of interest concerns.