Donald Trump built his campaign on the promise of championing the American worker over an economic and political system rigged against them, often exemplified by his pledge to “drain the swamp” of big money and lobbyists.
But since taking office, Trump has done everything in his power to install a cast of characters that strengthen wealthy interests’ hold over our democratic and economic institutions and leave the American worker behind.
Enter Neil Gorsuch, a Supreme Court nominee cast to fill the role of the judicial darling for the rich, radical right.
Here’s why Neil Gorsuch was picked to play Trump’s leading man:
He’ll leave workers in the cold.
Judge Neil Gorsuch is, by all accounts, an accomplished judge with impressive academic credentials and years of experience on the bench. He often writes with empathy towards the aggrieved individual appealing to his court for relief. In the name of “strict constructionism,” however, he ignores perfectly acceptable tools for judicial interpretation, such as logic, common sense, legislative history and clear purpose of the statute. He contorts plain language to a place that is unjust and can violate the very purpose of the statute in question.
For example, Gorsuch sided against a truck driver who was fired after abandoning his trailer when the trailer’s brakes froze.
The driver waited several hours in freezing temperatures but no help from the company arrived. He unhitched the trailer and drove to seek shelter from the cold. When help arrived, he returned to the trailer. A week later, he was fired. The rest of the court ruled in favor of the truck driver, citing a statute that prevents firing an employee who refuses to operate a vehicle in an unsafe condition. Gorsuch, however, dissented because the statute only protects those who “operate” a vehicle, and the driver was not operating the trailer when he abandoned it. The statute designed to promote worker safety would then require him to remain in an unsafe condition for it to apply.
Legal experts are sifting through Judge Gorsuch’s opinions to glean clues about how he may rule on any particular issue. (SCOTUSblog is a good resource.)
But we should also look at the company he keeps, like the billionaires using their personal networks and deep pockets to move him up the ladder of our courts.
He’s an enemy of equality.
Gorsuch has a lengthy history of legal representation and financial entanglements with a Colorado billionaire, which The New York Times called a “web of ties.”
Philip Anchsutz, once named the “greediest executive” by Fortune magazine, made his money in oil and gas before founding the Anchsutz Entertainment Group. AEG is the world’s largest owner of sports teams and venues, as well as the owner of conservative outlets The Weekly Standard and Washington Examiner.
His contributions to the Family Research Council and the National Christian Foundation have earned him a spot in what has been dubbed the “Enemies of Equality,” a network of big donors including Richard DeVos and James Dobson, who fund anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice organizations. Anchsutz denies his connections to right-wing groups. The tax receipts, however, do not lie.
Anchsutz is also known to attend gatherings hosted by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch. These infamous summits, conducted in secret, are the premier networking event for right-wing major donors and the candidates seeking their funds. His relationship to Gorsuch, however, was little examined until recently.
As it turns out, Gorsuch represented Anchsutz and his company years ago. Pleased with his work, Anchsutz then helped Gorsuch secure his appointment at the Court of Appeals by appealing to the Bush administration. Gorsuch now owns property with the two of Anchsutz’s closest associates. This close relationship has caused Gorsuch to recuse himself in any case where Anchsutz was a party.
Once on the bench, Gorsuch earned the trust of right-wing groups with his opinion in Hobby Lobby, Inc. v. Sebelius. In Hobby Lobby, Gorsuch wrote that the owners of a for-profit corporation had the right to refuse insurance coverage for their employees that could be used to pay for contraception because of the religious beliefs of the company owners. This is despite the fact the law requiring employers to provide insurance was clearly not designed to impede on religious beliefs, and contraception is often used as medical treatment for reasons beyond birth control. If Gorsuch’s logic was extended, could it be used to deny coverage for vaccines if your boss was a Christian Scientist, or perhaps refusal to rehire an Army reservist if your boss was a Quaker?
Though he has yet had the opportunity to issue, LGBTQ rights organizations see Gorsuch’s opinion that government should not force business owners “to violate their religious faith by lending an impermissible degree of assistance to conduct their religion teaches to be gravely wrong” to have grave implications for LGTBQ rights. Of course, government should have no place in dictating the religious convictions of any person. But should a for-profit business be allowed to pick and choose who it does business with based on a customer’s sexual orientation?
These kinds of cases could reach the nation’s highest court. It should be noted that Hobby Lobby is also a member of the “Enemies of Equality” network with Philip Anchsutz having donated massive amounts of money to the National Christian Foundation.
But the connections between Gorsuch and right-wing billionaires go deeper.
Philip Anchsutz, along with other GOP donors, helped found an organization called Wedgwood Circle. Wedgwood Circle bills itself as a promoter of “good, true beautiful art in mainstream culture.”
Interestingly, Wedgwood Circle employed a man named Neil Corkery as its Chief Financial Officer and listed his name and address as the principal officer on its tax filings. Neil Corkery is less known as a patron of the arts than as Treasurer of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). NOM formed to oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage and to support the Prop 8 fight in California. Funded by large donations, NOM engaged in protracted legal battles to keep the identity of its donors secret.
He’s in the Koch Brothers’ pocket.
Neil and his wife Ann Corkery are masters of dark money, funneling millions of anonymous dollars to anti-LGBTQ and anti-choice organizations, right-wing political candidates and state-level judicial elections. Through the Wellspring Committee and Annual Fund, the Corkerys take millions of dollars from shell corporations, then turn those funds into grants to organizations like the National Organization for Marriage. A big recipient of those funds? The Judicial Crisis Network.
Does Judicial Crisis Network sound familiar? It should. Funded by Wellspring and the billionaire activists Charles and David Koch, Judicial Crisis Network spent years to elect right-wing judges and attorneys general in several states. Conveniently, Neil Corkery was also the Treasurer of Judicial Crisis Network and President of its allied Judicial Education Project.
Judicial Crisis Network spent millions on a campaign to block the confirmation of Merrick Garland, President Obama’s appointment to the Supreme Court. It is now running a $10 million campaign to pressure senators to confirm Neil Gorsuch. Part of that campaign includes hiring lobbyist Bill Wicterman, who is also a founder of Wedgwood Circle -- the arts organization founded by Philip Anschutz that lists Neil Corkery as its principal officer.
It should come as no surprise that Gorsuch authored a concurring opinion in a case that overturned Colorado’s limit on certain political donations. In Riddle v. Hickenlooper, his concurring opinion went beyond what was required to overturn the limits, suggesting that political spending is a “fundamental” right that should be subject to “strict scrutiny.” This is the most rigid level of judicial review, which would hold the right to spend money on politics should be granted more protection than the act of voting in elections. The Koch brothers, Philip Anshutz and the DeVos family would be pleased.
Of course, major donors of any political party are likely to have overlapping political and business connections. It is troubling, though, when those major donors spend exorbitant (sometimes secret) amounts of money to support elected officials who engage in unprecedented constitutional chicanery to hold another, supposedly independent branch of government hostage, and then those same major donors spend additional exorbitant amounts of money to prop up a judge handpicked to rule in favor of their interests. Those interests include giving their right to spend unlimited, secret money on politics a higher level of protection than the right vote for or against those elected officials in charge of the judicial confirmation process.
Overwhelmed? Angry? So am I. Your senator should be angry, too.
The well-funded radical right managed to obstruct the constitutional process and hijack the nation’s highest court in order to install one of their own for a lifetime appointment.
Judge Gorsuch would have the power to shape the confines of our rights and our democracy for generations. Fortunately, our senators have the power to shape his confirmation.