The New York Times put out a story late yesterday that’s driving a lot of discussion in Colorado–detailing very close ties between U.S Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch and Colorado billionaire Phil Anschutz that raise a number of previously unasked questions:
Mr. Anschutz’s influence is especially felt in his home state of Colorado, where years ago Judge Neil M. Gorsuch, a Denver native, the son of a well-known Colorado Republican and now President Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, was drawn into his orbit.
As a lawyer at a Washington law firm in the early 2000s, Judge Gorsuch represented Mr. Anschutz, his companies and lower-ranking business executives as an outside counsel. In 2006, Mr. Anschutz successfully lobbied Colorado’s lone Republican senator and the Bush administration to nominate Judge Gorsuch to the federal appeals court. And since joining the court, Judge Gorsuch has been a semiregular speaker at the mogul’s annual dove-hunting retreats for the wealthy and politically prominent at his 60-square-mile Eagles Nest Ranch.
“They say a country’s prosperity depends on three things: sound money, private property and the rule of law,” Judge Gorsuch said at the 2010 retreat, according to his speaker notes from that year. “This crowd hardly needs to hear from me about the first two of the problems we face on those scores.”
As an outside counsel for Anschutz’s business empire, Gorsuch reportedly worked on a number of high-profile cases. But the big news in this story, something we and we’re pretty sure most Coloradans were not aware of, was Anschutz’s apparent heavy lobbying for Gorsuch’s appointment as a federal judge in 2006. Since his appointment, Gorsuch has apparently recused himself from some–but not all–cases that came before his court with a relationship to Phil Anschutz.
A surprising omission from this New York Times story is the fact that Gorsuch’s service as counsel to Anschutz overlaps with Sen. Michael Bennet’s tenure as Managing Director of the Anschutz Investment Company. Bennet’s employment by Anschutz is of course a matter of record, but obviously disclosure of these ties between Neil Gorsuch and Phil Anschutz invite new questions about how that association might affect Bennet’s vote to confirm Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court. Sen. Bennet has been very reserved about Gorsuch’s nomination, and is publicly undecided on whether to support him.
With Democrats generally hardening in opposition to Gorsuch as confirmation hearings prepare to begin, this could be a big moment for Sen. Bennet to refute some of the persistent criticism he gets on his left. A vote against Gorsuch–and especially against cloture to proceed to the simple majority confirmation vote itself–is an opportunity for Bennet to prove he’s his own man, at a moment it would really count.
Whether he likes it or not, Bennet is now front-and-center in the Gorsuch confirmation battle. Stay tuned.