WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump's extended criticism of the judiciary has prompted a rebuke from his nominee for the Supreme Court, who told a senator the president's comments were "demoralizing and disheartening."
Judge Neil Gorsuch, who was nominated by Trump to the nation's high court last week, made the comments Wednesday after Trump accused an appellate court considering his immigration and refugee executive order of being "so political." During the weekend, the president labeled a judge who ruled on his executive order a "so-called judge" and referred to the ruling as "ridiculous."
Gorsuch's comments came at the end of his first full week of meetings in the Senate, which is considering his nomination. His response may have been aimed at drawing a line of separation from the new president, who has been a politically polarizing figure among Democrats in a highly charged partisan fight over the court.
Prior to the judge's meeting on Capitol Hill, Trump slammed the court that is deliberating his immigration and refugee executive order, telling a group of police chiefs that his immigration order was "done for the security of our nation."
He quoted from the portion of the immigration law that he said gave him the power to enact the ban, calling it "beautifully written" and saying "a bad high school student would understand this."
"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," he added. "And that has to do with the security of our country, which is so important."
Trump's comments came as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is weighing the appeal of his executive order on immigration, including a temporary travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries. In a hearing Tuesday, judges on the appeals court challenged the administration's claim that the ban was motivated by terrorism fears, but also questioned an attorney's argument that it unconstitutionally targeted Muslims.
Since a lower-court judge blocked the order last week, Trump has assailed the decision, leading legal experts, Democrats and some Republicans to question whether the president's remarks might jeopardize the independence of the judiciary. Others have expressed fears he may be attempting to use political influence to sway the courts.
Gorsuch joined the criticism in a meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut. Blumenthal, a former state attorney general, said Gorsuch described the president's comments about the judiciary as "demoralizing and disheartening." Gorsuch's confirmation team confirmed the judge's comments.
Blumenthal told reporters that he had told the judge he would need to condemn Trump's attacks on judicial independence publicly.
"It needs to be a strong condemnation and that kind of public condemnation is important to establish his independence," Blumenthal said. "Otherwise, the American public will conclude that he is more likely to be a rubber stamp."
In his speech, Trump sought to link his comments about the court battle over his executive order to the law enforcement community in attendance.
"We have to allow you to do your job," he said. "And we have to give you the weapons that you need, and this is a weapon that you need and they're trying to take it away from you."
The president has repeatedly said people are "pouring in" since the ban was put on hold and suggested that blocking the order would be dangerous for U.S. citizens.
On Wednesday morning he tweeted, "Big increase in traffic into our country from certain areas, while our people are far more vulnerable, as we wait for what should be EASY D!"
The administration has not provided any information to support his claims.
Customs and Border Protection, the agency in charge of screening people who arrive at U.S. ports, including airports, has not responded to multiple requests to detail how many visa holders from the seven designated countries have been allowed into the United States since a federal judge temporarily blocked the government from implementing the travel ban.
The State Department previously said fewer than 60,000 visas were provisionally revoked after the order was signed and those people would now be allowed to travel to the U.S. Trump's order banned travel to the U.S. for people from Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen and Libya. It also suspended the country's refugee global program.
As of Wednesday afternoon 641 refugees from 13 countries, including five whose citizens were barred from the U.S. under the travel ban, had arrived since a federal judge in Washington ruled against the government.
Associated Press writers Catherine Lucey, Alicia Caldwell and Kevin Freking contributed to this report.