Selecting federal judges and limiting government are the “flip side of the same coin,” White House counsel Don McGahn told conservative activists gathered outside Washington.
McGahn spoke Thursday at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in an interview conducted by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn.
As White House counsel, McGahn is the chief legal adviser to President Donald Trump. He has played a key role in helping select nominees for the federal judiciary and in shepherding the confirmation process of numerous appeals court judges.
Chief among them: Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court.
Many judges are increasingly deferential to unelected federal agency heads who impose regulations without Congress’ involvement or consent, but not Gorsuch, McGahn said at CPAC:
What really resonated with the president was, [Gorsuch] was someone with impeccable credentials, wonderful character, great man, [who] frankly stuck his neck out on an issue that anyone else may have feared would hurt their chance at a promotion. He is sort of a vanguard on this.
As a judge on the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch said courts ought not to defer to unelected agency heads, but rather interpret laws that legislatures pass and the executive branch enforces.
For the Trump administration, McGahn said, “judicial selection and deregulation are the flip side of the same coin.”
The administration is focused on curbing the power of unelected bureaucrats with respect to regulation, he said, adding: “One needs to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
A former member of the Federal Election Commission, McGahn said Congress too often punts to unelected bureaucrats to sort out broad laws passed by elected representatives. He asked Congress to take three actions going forward.
“Pay attention to details of the legislation,” he said.
Next, Congress must roll up its sleeves and conduct oversight, “not just do the oversight that gets headlines,” and ensure that laws are “working as intended.”
Last, “with all due respect, read the Constitution and realize there are enumerated powers,” he said.
McGahn welcomed Congress to join the Trump administration in seeking to ensure courts don’t make law.
McGahn has weathered the Trump administration through special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, litigation over the “extreme vetting” travel restrictions, and other legal controversies.
The White House counsel explained that his job, a position created in 1943, includes advising the president on legislation, national security law, and most other legal issues.
CPAC, the largest annual national gathering of conservative activists, runs Thursday to Saturday at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, just outside Washington.