As with ProPublica’s recent smear of Justice Clarence Thomas, there’s a lot of excitement across the left-wing Twittersphere over a Politico hit on Justice Neil Gorsuch. But even as a transparent piece of partisan propaganda, it is poorly conceived.
Politico kicks off the piece “Law firm head bought Gorsuch-owned property” with a purposefully deceptive claim: “For nearly two years beginning in 2015, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch sought a buyer for a 40-acre tract of property he co-owned in rural Granby, Colo.”
No. For nearly two years before he was even nominated as a Supreme Court justice, a group that included Gorsuch tried to sell a Colorado property it owned together since 2005. And nine days after Gorsuch was confirmed, but before he ruled on any cases, the property was sold to a lawyer who runs Colorado’s biggest law firm. Gorsuch netted between $250,000 and $500,000 on the sale.
The reason Politico’s Heidi Przybyla is aware of Gorsuch’s super-secret arrangement is that it’s listed right there on his publicly available federal disclosure form from 2017 alongside every other income—stock sales, etc. Yet, one of Politico’s central insinuations is that Gorsuch was trying to conceal this transaction because he “did not report the identity of the purchaser.”
And it’s true that the nominee didn’t fill out the “Identity of buyer/seller” column for the estate transaction—or, for that matter, on any other income. I went back and looked at all the disclosure forms of Supreme Court justices in 2017, and none of them made a single notation in that column for any transaction. And, as far as I can tell, that line has never seen as much as a scribble from any justice in any year. Politico is holding Gorsuch to a completely new standard.
The piece also goes on to claim that Gorsuch “didn’t indicate that there had been a real estate sale or a purchaser.” This is just false. On the very first page of the disclosure, Gorsuch notes that he was a member of the “Walden Group, LLC,” right next to the words “mountain property.” On the next page, he lists the specifics.
The other central accusation of the piece is that the sale of the property created a conflict of interest for Gorsuch. But the lawyer who bought the property, Brian Duffy, says he’s never met or spoken to Gorsuch. And Politico offers no evidence to the contrary.
Nor does Politico offer evidence that Gorsuch has ever deviated from his long-held legal philosophy to help anyone at Duffy’s huge law firm, Greenberg Traurig. (Duffy, incidentally, sends most of his contributions to Democrats—including Raphael Warnock, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, and Barack Obama.)
It takes only a few paragraphs to figure out that Gorsuch broke no law and did nothing that a good-faith observer could deem unethical. So the piece, much like the coverage of Thomas’ friendship with Harlan Crow, tries to cover up its lack of substantiation with a veneer of vaguely journalistic-sounding verbiage.
Przybyla then gives the floor to Sen. Dick Durbin and other left-wing anti-court activists, as one does when writing an unbiased piece insinuating that a Supreme Court is corrupt. “Without decisive action, the conservatives on the Supreme Court will forever tarnish its reputation in our public life,” one of these activists explains.
Justice Elena Kagan, who served as Obama’s solicitor general, had no problem participating in a case upholding Obamacare. But Gorsuch once associated with characters that Przybyla finds unsavory. “Gorsuch’s ties to the oil and gas industry run deep,” Przybyla reminds the reader (which is bad, in case there is confusion).
To bolster allusions of impropriety, Politico links to a similarly weak New York Times article from 2017, “Neil Gorsuch Has Web of Ties to Secretive Billionaire.” The shadowy tycoon in question is Philip Anschutz, whose name adorns medical facilities and buildings and museums across the state because he is known to basically everyone in Colorado.
Anyway, years ago, Gorsuch worked with Anschutz, who in turn championed the fellow Coloradoan for a court during the Bush years. And because Gorsuch made money with people connected to Anschutz in the private sector, it means—I don’t know what it means. And it doesn’t really matter.
These hits are chum for partisans to swarm around. The only thing that matters is creating the perception that “conservative” justices—as if that explains Gorsuch’s legal philosophy—are corrupt. How else could they possibly believe those wacky originalist ideas, anyway?
It’s all part of a concerted effort to delegitimize a Supreme Court that still occasionally upholds a semblance of constitutional limits on the state, the one thing still standing in the way of progressive project.
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