The New York Times has found its line of attack against the seemingly unassailable Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee. Reporter Matt Flegenheimer went phony populist as he signed on to the approved Democratic angle against Gorsuch, in Tuesday’s “Democrats Move to Cast Justice Nominee as Enemy of the Little Guy.” The day before, the Times had attacked from the left another Trump pick, Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta.
Flegenheimer led off with the maximalist dose of Democratic attack rhetoric:
Corporate tool. Enemy of disabled people. Deferential to the privileged, including the man who chose him.
One week before Judge Neil M. Gorsuch is to sit for his Supreme Court confirmation hearing, Democrats have zeroed in on their most prominent planned line of attack: Judge Gorsuch’s rulings have favored the powerful and well connected. And he has done little, they will say, to demonstrate independence from a president whose combative relationship with the judiciary has already clouded the nominating process.
The strategy includes two events this week aimed at emphasizing Judge Gorsuch’s record on workers’ rights and big money in politics -- an attempt to break through the din in President Trump’s Washington, where the nomination fight so far has been largely overshadowed by administration infighting, Russia-tinged scandals and legislation to overhaul the nation’s health care system.
The Democrats’ approach also appears to be in keeping with the preference of some lawmakers to make the nomination as much a referendum on Mr. Trump as Judge Gorsuch, with ready parallels to the president’s history as a profit-seeking boss and serial litigant.
Mr. Trump’s decision last week to ask for the resignations of dozens of United States attorneys appointed by President Barack Obama -- a prerogative of any president -- is expected to sharpen Democrats’ focus on Mr. Trump’s respect for legal processes and Judge Gorsuch’s degree of independence.
But after weeks spent poring over his rulings, their attention in the coming days will be trained largely on Judge Gorsuch’s paper trail on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Democrats are expected to point out several instances they say highlight his tendency to side against the little guy. In one case, Judge Gorsuch argued in a dissent that a company was permitted to fire a truck driver for abandoning his cargo for his own safety in subzero temperatures.
Judge Gorsuch’s defenders have accused Democrats of cherry-picking, arguing that his adherence to the law does not suggest a lack of compassion. In the case of the professor, for instance, the decision was unanimous and joined by a nominee of President Bill Clinton.
The Times inserted a brief quote from a Gorsuch defender before clamping back down:
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Carrie Severino, the chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, a group pushing for Judge Gorsuch’s confirmation, called the Democrats’ criticisms “an absurd overgeneralization.”
Skeptics of Judge Gorsuch have been unmoved. On Tuesday, Democrats on Capitol Hill have planned an event focused on Judge Gorsuch’s record on campaign finance laws, suggesting that he would continue the rightward movement of the court in this area.
Flegenheimer eagerly joined in the Democratic effort to tar Gorsuch by association with Trump.
Mr. Gorsuch’s views on social issues will surely retain a conspicuous place at his hearings. One of his best-known rulings was a vote in favor of Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., which objected to regulations under the Affordable Care Act requiring employers to provide free contraception coverage.
But other cases may offer Democrats a more powerful populist message as they press Judge Gorsuch -- and, if they choose, at least a handful of opportunities to link the nominee to a president with a history of punching down. During the campaign, Mr. Trump was criticized for failing to pay contractors at his buildings, misleading students at Trump University and mocking a reporter with a physical disability.
On Monday, reporter Yamiche Alcindor went after another Trump’s Labor Secretary nominee Alexander Acosta from the left with “New Labor Nominee Is Described as Fair by Some, Self-Serving by Others,” opening with an unflattering anecdote straight from a liberal activist who worked for Sen. Ted Kennedy.
In 2008, three years after R. Alexander Acosta had decamped from the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for the United States attorney’s post in South Florida, the Justice Department’s in-house investigator laid out a damning conclusion: Under Mr. Acosta’s watch, his office had repeatedly violated federal law and department policies by weighing political affiliations in hiring and assessing civil rights employees.
The inspector general laid most of the blame on a subordinate of Mr. Acosta’s, Bradley Schlozman, but the investigation concluded that Mr. Acosta had ignored warning signs about hiring practices.
To William Yeomans, who spent 26 years working at the Justice Department and now teaches constitutional law and civil rights at American University, Mr. Acosta got “a little bit of a pass.”
“There was a coordinated, political effort to drive out career attorneys, people who had been there for many years, and replace them with conservative ideologues,” said Mr. Yeomans, who worked for Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts, and is active in liberal legal circles. “Acosta certainly knew what was going on.”
Now Mr. Acosta has been nominated for a new post, secretary of labor, that would task him with creating and enforcing policies to ensure the safety and fair treatment of workers across the country, and the old demons of the George W. Bush era may loom large as he goes before the Senate labor committee this month for his first confirmation hearing.
But Mr. Yeomans also recalled an example of what he described as Mr. Acosta’s propensity for cutting corners. While Mr. Acosta was transitioning into the prestigious post of assistant attorney general for civil rights, he told Mr. Yeomans, then a career Justice Department attorney, that he planned to a hire a Republican lawyer, whom he knew through political connections and who most likely would not have qualified for the job, because the lawyer was sick and needed benefits. The hiring disturbed Mr. Yeomans, but Mr. Acosta saw the gesture as a much-needed gift for a man who needed health insurance.
“It shows a disregard for being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Mr. Yeomans said. “It suggests he would be unlikely to stand up if the Trump administration told him to do things that should not be done.”
Note to the Times: A Ted Kennedy acolyte may not the most convincing advocate for “being a good steward of the taxpayers’ dollars.”