A former Pittsburg resident has a unique outlook on United States Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch.
To Michael Trent, who graduated from Pittsburg High School in 1985, Gorsuch is not “your honor,” or “judge,” but simply “Neil.”
Trent and Gorsuch became friends in the early 1980s when Trent’s father — Darrell Trent — was undersecretary of transportation under President Ronald Reagan and Gorsuch’s mother Anne Gorsuch Burford was the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.
The two quickly formed a fast friendship.
“So we had moved out to Washington in 1981,” Trent said. “Neil and I actually went to high school together at a school just outside of DC.”
Trent returned to Pittsburg in the middle of his sophomore year of high school, but the two remained in touch.
“We kept in touch over the years, visited each other early in our careers,” Trent said. “I went up to Harvard law school when he was going to school there.”
Then, a few years later, Trent was engaged to be married and asked Gorsuch to be his best man, the only problem was that Gorsuch was currently at Oxford in the United Kingdom studying for his doctorate.
“When I got engaged I asked him to be my best man, and he’d gone back to Oxford to get his PhD,” Trent said. “My wife and I decided to combine our honeymoon and wedding and we just sort of ran away and did it without anyone.”
Although, Trent admits, they didn’t exactly elope, but let their families know what they were doing.
A year later he returned the favor.
“When Neil got engaged the next year he asked me to be his best man,” Trent said. “So Grace and I went over to England — Neil’s wife is from England — and I was the best man in his wedding over there in 96.”
He said they still see each other at least once a year and talk every few weeks. Trent now lives in Marietta, Georgia, and stood Godfather to both of Trent’s young sons.
“He’s very kind,” Trent said of his friend’s personality. “As godfather to our two sons there’s not a birthday or Christmas that goes by that a box doesn't arrive from Godfather Neil for the kids. He spoils them quite a bit.”
Trent said Gorsuch didn’t even let his friend know he was on the short list for nomination during the election. He said he first heard about President Donald Trump’s list of nominees on the radio.
“Through the course of last year we talked several times through the campaign and I never knew that he was on the president’s list of potential nominees,” Trent said. “So I called him, and said ‘why didn’t you tell me you were on the list!’ He said ‘oh there’s 21 people on the list, I don’t know anyone on the campaign, so it’s never going to happen, it’s not a big deal’ and he kind of laughed it off.”
Trent said Gorsuch was “humbled” by the nod.
“I think he was extremely honored, at the same time he knew the microscope he’d be going under and that his family would be going under, and that gave him pause,” Trent said. “He had no doubts that he could do the job. His biggest questions around it were this process we’re in now — what it was going to be like, how prepared this new president was for it.
“I think anybody going into this would be concerned about the political environment that we’re under right now.
Trent said he’s disappointed in the bitter fight over Gorsuch’s nomination, as the man he knows is a thoughtful, quiet person who does not seek the limelight.
“I think the best way to describe his demeanor .... he’s very humble, very thoughtful, very well spoken,” Trent said. “He’s not someone that goes out and seeks the limelight. In fact, if I think back to our days in high school together he’s not someone that needed the attention in a group of people. He was the person that listened quite a bit.”
Currently, reports indicate Senate Republicans are eight votes shy of the 60 needed to confirm Gorsuch without the so-called “nuclear option” which would change Senate rules to allow a simple majority to confirm Gorsuch.
The nuclear option was first exercised under then-Senate Majority Harry Reid (D-Nevada) in 2013, but was limited to non-Supreme Court Judicial Branch nominees and executive branch appointments.
Trent said he was disappointed it may come to this, but said he doesn’t think the fight is really about his friend.
“I don’t think it’s about him,” Trent said. “I think the criticisms the Senate Democrats are making are about the president. About their colleagues on the Republican side and about what happened with President Obama’s nominee last year, which has nothing to do with Neil.”
Former President Barack Obama nominated Judge Merrick Garland in early 2016 after the unexpected death of Justice Antonin Scalia. Garland’s nomination would likely have shifted the ideological balance of the court. However the Republican majority in the Senate invoked the so called “Biden Rule” promulgated by Former Vice President Joe Biden in 1992 when he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Biden said Supreme Court nominees should not be considered in the last year of a presidency. Acting on that, Republicans denied Garland a vote.
“Neil has shown the utmost respect for Merrick Garland, they’re good friends, they served on the appeals court together,” Trent said, adding Gorsuch had supported Garland in the past.
"Back in 2002 Neil as a lawyer in private practice had written an op-ed basically it was a tribute to Byron White after he had passed away, but in that op-ed he had a couple paragraphs about how disappointed he was with the confirmation process for Merrick Garland and for John Roberts going on the courts — appeals for Garland — back then.”
The UPI article was mostly about Justice Byron White, but included these paragraphs:
“Meanwhile, some of the most impressive judicial nominees are grossly mistreated. Take Merrick Garland and John Roberts, two appointees to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C. Both were Supreme Court clerks. Both served with distinction at the Department of Justice. Both are widely considered to be among the finest lawyers of their generation. Garland, a Clinton appointee, was actively promoted by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah. Roberts, a Bush nominee, has the backing of Seth Waxman, President Bill Clinton's solicitor general. But neither Garland nor Roberts has chosen to live his life as a shirker; both have litigated controversial cases involving ‘hot-button’ issues.
“As a result, Garland was left waiting for 18 months before being confirmed over the opposition of 23 senators. Roberts, nominated almost a year ago, still waits for a hearing — and sees no end to the waiting in sight. In fact, this is the second time around for Roberts: he was left hanging without a vote by the Senate at the end of the first Bush administration. So much for promoting excellence in today's confirmation process.”
“Nobody reports that, right? It’s all about President Obama’s nominee never got a hearing,” Trent said.
Trent said he thinks it’s all about politics.
“I think he did so well in the confirmation hearings that he really impressed everyone who watched,” Trent said. “Even some of the democrats that he spent so much time sitting with in meetings, they got along wonderfully as human beings, why the Democrats have to put up such a front is disappointing."
He said he believes Senate Democrats think the “nuclear option” will hurt them badly in the long run.
“I think they know that,” Trent said. “But they’re just trying to appease the base that’s yelling at them to do something.”
— Patrick Richardson is the managing editor of the Pittsburg Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @PittEditor.