[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, asked the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation to disclose documents the conservative organizations produced to develop President Trump’s short list – and eventual nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch – for the Supreme Court. It is without precedent for a President to rely so heavily on an outside organization, particularly an extreme partisan organization such as the Heritage Foundation, to make decisions regarding a judicial nomination.
“The wholesale outsourcing of nominee selection to interest groups is without known precedent, especially for a position as important as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court,” Blumenthal wrote. “Because of the role you appear to have played in the vetting and selection of Judge Gorsuch, it is imperative that the Committee better understand the nature and content of the communications you had with the nominee, the campaign, the transition team, and the administration.”
The Heritage Foundation has promoted extreme positions relating to civil rights, privacy, immigration, and gun violence prevention. The organization’s opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, which allows gay couples to marry, as well as its support of radical efforts to restrict women’s access to healthcare, are well outside the mainstream.
U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ranking Member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent four letters last month requesting documents and additional information on Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, and has received no response.
The full text of today’s letter is copied below and available here.
President, The Federalist Society for Law & Public Policy Studies
1776 I Street NW
Washington, DC 20006
President, The Heritage Foundation
214 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002
March 6, 2017
Dear Mr. Meyer and Senator DeMint,
I write as a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is currently considering the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. During his presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald J. Trump took the unprecedented step of publicly announcing that he would be relying on your organizations to develop a shortlist of candidates to be nominated to the Supreme Court. I therefore ask you to provide to the Committee any emails, documents, or other materials related to your communications with Judge Gorsuch, as well as with President Trump’s presidential campaign, transition team, and presidential administration about the development of his shortlist and the eventual selection of Judge Gorsuch.
As a candidate, Mr. Trump was explicit that he would rely on the Federalist Society and Heritage Foundation to pick someone to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. For example, on May 11, 2016, Mr. Trump told certain members of Congress that he would publicly release a list of potential Supreme Court nominees, substantially assisted by the Heritage Foundation and the Federalist Society. On June 13, 2016, Mr. Trump stated, “We’re going to have great judges, conservative, all picked by the Federalist Society.” On September 23, 2016, in announcing a second list of possible nominees, Mr. Trump stated, “I would like to thank the Federalist Society, the Heritage Foundation, and the many other individuals who helped in composing this list.” A recent Wall Street Journal article profiling Federalist Society Executive Vice President Leonard Leo stated, “As the campaign wore on, the net was widened—eventually to include 21 names—and the extra time for vetting revealed Judge Gorsuch’s stalwart record.”
President Trump and his team continued to rely on your organizations in the selection and vetting of nominees during the transition and upon assuming office. The outsized role of your organizations was further highlighted in a recent profile of Judge Gorsuch in the Washington Post: “Gorsuch has been aggressively vetted for the court by conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, and they have backed him enthusiastically. These groups even scrutinized his attendance at St. John’s Episcopal Church—which draws from the largely liberal population in Boulder, Colo., calls itself a largely liberal congregation and advertised on its website for the Women’s March in Washington last month—and concluded it was not a strike against him.” Judge Gorsuch himself admitted in his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire that his first contact in the “entire judicial selection process” was with the Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo on December 2, 2016.
The production of documents by outside groups in connection with a nomination to the Supreme Court is supported by precedent. In 2009, when then-Judge Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, then-Chairman Patrick Leahy and then-Ranking Member Jeff Sessions sent a letter to the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund asking for material related to her time on their board.
However, the wholesale outsourcing of nominee selection to interest groups is without known precedent, especially for a position as important as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Because of the role you appear to have played in the vetting and selection of Judge Gorsuch, it is imperative that the Committee better understand the nature and content of the communications you had with the nominee, the campaign, the transition team, and the administration.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.