Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court has described the president’s attacks on the judiciary as “demoralizing” and “disheartening”. Neil Gorsuch’s comments were made to a Democratic senator and confirmed by his spokesman.
The president called a judge who halted his controversial travel ban a “so-called judge”, and said any terror attacks on US soil would be his fault.
The ban on arrivals from seven mainly Muslim countries faces a legal test.
Judge James Robart made headlines last week when he issued a stay on the president’s refugee and immigration ban, arguing it was unconstitutional.
Mr Trump reacted by tweeting: “The opinion of this so-called judge, which essentially takes law-enforcement away from our country, is ridiculous and will be overturned!”
He also attacked the judge several times over the weekend and on Wednesday said federal judges opposed to the ban were acting politically.
Democrats and other critics have said Mr Trump’s comments about the judiciary undermine a core principle of US democracy that courts are supposed to be independent.
Donald Trump has offered Neil Gorsuch the keys to the kingdom – a lifetime appointment to the US Supreme Court, where the 47-year-old judge would have the opportunity to make a lasting mark on American jurisprudence.
The gift comes at a price, however. Mr Gorsuch, highly regarded for his judicial temperament and sharp legal mind, is now in the uncomfortable position of having to explain why the president who nominated him seems intent on eroding the authority of the judicial branch in which he serves.
While past presidents have questioned judicial decisions, Mr Trump – with his “so-called judge” tweet and warnings of assigning blame to courts for future terrorist attacks – has made his disagreements personal.
Now we have evidence that Mr Gorsuch may not hold his tongue and play the loyal soldier. In the end, he has a reputation to protect – one that will outlive the upcoming confirmation battle.
This is the Trump dilemma for conservatives in a nutshell. The president offers Republicans the opportunity to achieve goals long delayed after eight years of Democratic rule. They may not enjoy the political journey the president takes them on to get there, however.
The judiciary is a co-equal branch of the US government, along with Congress and the president’s executive branch, under the Constitution.
After meeting Mr Gorsuch on Wednesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut revealed the Supreme Court nominee had found the president’s criticism to be “demoralising and disheartening”.
The judge’s confirmation team confirmed the judge’s comments.
Mr Blumenthal said in a statement: “As the nominee of a president who has viciously attacked the independence of the judiciary and declared multiple litmus tests for justices, Judge Gorsuch has a special responsibility to reassure the American people that he will be an open-minded and independent jurist.”
The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals is pondering whether to reinstate Mr Trump’s executive order on immigration.
It is expected that the case will end up in the Supreme Court, which has only eight justices until Mr Gorsuch is confirmed by the US Senate.
On Wednesday, the White House released a list of 24 terror suspects who came to the US from the seven Muslim-majority countries featured in the executive order.