SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — President Donald Trump’s nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court couldn’t escape discussion of the president’s travel ban — and even the president — during an appearance Monday at a judicial conference, where a student essay winner compared the ban to Japanese internment and the producer of the musical “Hamilton” said the cast was scared following Trump’s election victory.
Gorsuch was a late fill-in at the 9th Circuit conference for fellow Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy and took over what was supposed to be Kennedy’s role of welcoming new U.S. citizens.
Gorsuch was among three justices who said in June that Trump’s ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries should be completely reinstated pending further arguments. He encouraged the new citizens to tolerate different points of view.
“Democracy depends on our willingness to hear and respect even those we disagree with strongly,” Gorsuch said. “In a government by and for the people, we have to remember those with whom we disagree, even vehemently, still have the best interests of the country at heart.”
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With Gorsuch seated next to her, an Alaska high school student earlier in the day read her winning essay on the topic of Japanese internment — a topic selected by the 9th Circuit.
Olivia Tafs, 15, compared the treatment of Muslims after the Sept. 11 attacks to that of Japanese Americans during World War II. She cited Trump’s travel ban as an example of what she said was ethnic profiling.
Gorsuch shook her hand following the speech.
Tafs later said it was “awkward” and a “little weird” to air her views about the travel ban before Gorsuch.
“That’s just how I saw it,” she said.
Gorsuch’s visit came as the Trump administration asked the high court to again weigh in on its ban on travelers from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen following a Hawaii judge’s ruling that reduced the ban’s scope.
With Gorsuch in the audience, “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller was asked at another panel discussion why the cast felt the need to encourage Vice President-elect Mike Pence to work on behalf of all Americans when he attended the show following the election.
Seller said as a candidate, Trump was hostile to Mexicans and other people represented on the cast, and cast members decided they had to address Pence because of his connection to the president.
Gorsuch appeared unfazed by the discussion of the president who nominated him, lingering in a hotel banquet hall well after the conference ended for the day to talk to some of the new U.S. citizens, as other judges and conference attendees attended a wine and beer reception outside.
Minh Nhat Duong, 30, said he didn’t think Gorsuch’s views on the travel ban necessarily reflected his attitude about immigrants. Duong, who is from Vietnam, was among 20 immigrants sworn in at a naturalization ceremony at the conference. None of the immigrants was from any of the countries on the travel ban.
Gorsuch came to the conference after Kennedy canceled his trip when his wife fractured her hip in Austria. The 9th Circuit — the nation’s largest federal court circuit — includes the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and district and bankruptcy courts in California and eight other western states.
Judges in the circuit have blocked both of Trump’s travel bans and halted his attempt to strip funding from so-called sanctuary cities, and the four-day conference is not shying away from topics that have stoked the president’s ire, including fake news and meddling in the U.S. election.
Gorsuch joined Justice Samuel Alito in a dissent written by Justice Clarence Thomas in June that said the ban, which also blocks refugees, should be completely reinstated pending arguments before the high court scheduled for October.
The dissent argued the administration had made a “strong showing” that it was likely to succeed in overturning court orders blocking the ban. The administration has argued the ban is needed for national security. Lower court judges have cited Trump’s comments on the campaign trail as evidence that it was motivated by anti-Muslim bias.