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Neil Gorsuch says Trump's attacks on judges are disheartening

Supreme Court nominee Gorsuch

Note An earlier version of this story said that during a meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal Wednesday, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch had called the president’s remarks about the judiciary “disheartening and abhorrent.” Further reporting by CBS News’ Margaret Brennan indicated that it was Blumenthal who used these words, and Gorsuch reportedly agreed that it was disheartening, though he did not use the word “abhorrent.”

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was reportedly critical of President Donald Trump’s recent attacks on the judiciary during a meeting with a Democratic senator Wednesday.

CBS News’ Margaret Brennan confirmed that Gorsuch, whom Mr. Trump nominated to fill the late Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court, discussed the president’s sustained attacks on the federal court system in his meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut).

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Neil Gorsuch speaks after U.S. President Donald Trump nominated him to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court at the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., January 31, 2017.  REUTERS

A source on the Supreme Court nomination team said the two talked about Mr. Trump’s recent attacks on the judiciary. Blumenthal feels disheartened by what the president has said about several judges, and thinks the attacks are abhorrent. Gorsuch reportedly agreed that it was disheartening and said it was“demoralizing.” CNN and the Hill first reported the remarks. 

In an address to sheriffs and police chiefs, the president, after talking about his travel ban, said of U.S. courts, “They are interpreting things differently than probably 100 percent of people in this room. I never want to call a court biased, so I won’t call it biased.”

But he added, “courts seem to be so political, and it would be so great for our justice system if they would be able to read a statement and do what’s right.”

Mr. Trump’s attacks on the judicial branch began last weekend when Seattle-based U.S. District Judge James Robart declared a nationwide stay on the president’s controversial travel ban.

He called Robart a “so-called judge,” saying his decision in the case was “ridiculous and will be overturned.” The president kept at it all weekend, posting critical texts multiple times a day.

In one, Mr. Trump even seemed to suggest that Robart and the judicial system would be responsible for future attacks on the country.

“If something happens blame him and court system,” he tweeted Sunday.

CBS News Chief legal correspondent Jan Crawford observes that presidents and politicians complaining about the judiciary is not exactly new. In recent years, President Obama berated conservative Supreme Court justices for their Citizens United decision while they sat directly in front of him during his State of the Union address. He actually mischaracterized the decision--prompting Justice Alito to shake his head and mouth “No.” Chief Justice John Roberts subsequently spoke out about that publicly-- not the criticism or mischaracterization, but the forum.  

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch talks about his values

In 1996, Republicans -- and presidential nominee Bob Dole -- called for a  judge’s impeachment because they didn’t like his ruling in a drug case. After the ruling became an issue in the campaign, President Clinton suggested he would ask for the judge’s resignation if he didn’t reverse himself.  The judge  eventually did so, even though legal observers said the ruling was on solid ground.

Looking further back, Nixon ran a presidential campaign criticizing the Supreme Court. But the most famous example of presidential frustration/criticism came when Franklin Roosevelt actually tried to change the composition of the Supreme Court -- with his “court packing” plan. It was ultimately unsuccessful. 

Vice President Mike Pence, in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” that morning, said Mr. Trump wasn’t questioning the legitimacy of Seattle District Court Judge Robart or the judicial system, saying he was “simply expressing a frustration.”

Gorsuch has been meeting with senators from both parties this week as he awaits a confirmation hearing. On Thursday, he’s slated to meet with four Republican senators. 

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