WASHINGTON (CN) – Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch revealed the details of his selection process in a 68-page questionnaire submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee over the weekend.
Nominees for the Supreme Court traditionally deliver questionnaires to the Judiciary Committee shortly after being nominated and before their confirmation hearings.
In the lengthy documents they address questions about their work history, legal background and potential conflicts of interest that might arise while they are on the bench.
Gorsuch delivered his questionnaire on Saturday, less than two weeks after President Donald Trump announced the 10th Circuit judge as his choice to fill the vacant ninth seat on the Supreme Court.
According to Gorsuch, his first contact with Trump’s transition team came on Dec. 2, 2016, when transition team member Leonard Leo reached out to him. Gorsuch had his first in-person interview with Donald McGahn, now Trump’s counsel, on Jan. 5, and later in the day met with Vice President Mike Pence and other members of Trump’s team, including Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus.
Trump did not interview Gorsuch until Jan. 14, two-and-a-half weeks before he announced the judge as his nominee in a much-hyped primetime event. Trump did not tell Gorsuch he would be nominating him to fill the seat of the late Justice Antonin Scalia until Jan. 30, one day before the announcement, according to the questionnaire.
In addition to the description of his selection process, Gorsuch’s questionnaire lists what he sees as the 10 most significant cases that came before him while on the 10th Circuit.
Along with the court’s well-known decision in the Hobby Lobby birth control mandate case, Gorsuch included a religious freedom case, Yellowbear v. Lampert, and a case concerning immigration, Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch.
In Yellowbear the 10th Circuit found a prison violated the rights of a Native American prisoner by preventing him from using the prison’s sweat lodge, the use of which was a part of the prisoner’s Northern Arapaho faith.
In the opinion, Gorsuch said even though the prisoner was likely to spend his life behind bars, the prison had not given a good reason to restrict his religious exercise while there.
“While those convicted of crime in our society lawfully forfeit a great many civil liberties, Congress has (repeatedly) instructed that the sincere exercise of religion should not be among them – at least in the absence of a compelling reason,” Gorsuch wrote in the opinion. “In this record we can find no reason like that.”
Gorsuch also included the court’s decision in Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, notable not just because it found in favor of an immigrant who had been blocked from entering the country on the basis of a reinterpretation of a law, but also because it gave Gorsuch the opportunity to openly challenge Chevron deference, which holds courts must defer to a federal agency’s interpretation of a statute when that statute is vague.
In addition, Gorsuch cited the court’s 2016 decision in United States v. Carloss, which held police officers had not violated the Fourth Amendment by entering the yard of a home in which they later found drugs. Gorsuch dissented, saying the Supreme Court has held there is no “implied consent” for officers to enter the land around a house, according to the questionnaire.
Gorsuch has been meeting with senators in the weeks since his nomination, though he has received pushback from Democrats who have questioned whether he would be able to remain independent from Trump while on the Supreme Court. Gorsuch last week criticized Trump’s Twitter attacks on the judicial branch, but that did nothing to satisfy the independence concerns Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has prominently pushed.