Neil Gorsuch Clarified His Maternity Leave Comments

by Noor Al-Sibai
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images News/Getty Images

On the second day of his confirmation hearing, 9th Circuit Court Judge and Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch faced questions from Democrats about a controversial letter from a former law student. In a letter addressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jennifer Sisk, a former student of Gorsuch's, alleged that the judge made comments targeting women who take maternity leave. During the hearing, Gorsuch clarified his maternity leave comments by saying that he instead asked students if they'd been asked "an inappropriate question" about family planning, and was often shocked by the responses he got.

In her letter, Sisk alleged that Gorsuch asked a class she attended with him in 2016 at the University of Colorado Law School to "raise their hands if they knew of a female who had used a company to get maternity benefits and then left right after having a baby." Sisk alleged that Gorsuch followed up the question by supposedly claiming that "many women" misled employers about whether or not they intend to get pregnant in the near future in order to use them for maternity benefits.

During his testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gorsuch denied Sisk's allegations and said that he instead asked the class to raise their hands if they'd ever been asked "an inappropriate question about your family planning." He further clarified that he is "shocked every year" by "how many young women raise their hand" to the question, and called it "disturbing".

When being questioned by Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin, Gorsuch refrained from answering whether or not questions about family planning are illegal, but did say that he finds those sorts of questions "highly inappropriate". Sen. Durbin explained the letter's allegations to Gorsuch, who then denied them and clarified the lesson he was aiming to teach.

Following news of Sisk's letter to the judiciary committee, another law student of Gorsuch's wrote a letter in defense of the lesson, denying Sisk's claims. Several female law clerks who worked under Gorsuch disputed the claims as well. One such law clerk was Janie Nitze, who told NPR that "the suggestion that he 'discounts the worth of working females' is patently absurd." Nitze publicly came out in support of Gorsuch in the conservative Daily Signal publication the day prior to his confirmation hearing.

As the National Women's Law Center (the organization who first published the letters from Sisk and another anonymous student who agreed with her) said in a follow-up note about Gorsuch's clerks' denial of the allegations, "the dispute provides an even greater need for a thorough and close investigation of this issue in the hearings this week." Whether or not Gorsuch made those comments or not, this topic will surely continue to be discussed.