Judge Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump's pick to occupy the Supreme Court seat that was stolen from President Obama's nominee, is being credited with a show of independence for his mild, private criticism of Trump's despotic campaign to undermine the entire judicial branch. Gorsuch deserves no such credit, as his behavior is that of a coward, not a hero.

Judge Neil Gorsuch made news by telling Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), in a private meeting, that he finds Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the judicial branch “disheartening” and “demoralizing,” a mild condemnation, at best.

While the corporate media and Republicans are tripping over themselves to credit Gorsuch with an unearned streak of “independence,” Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer told some necessary truths about Gorsuch in an interview with Rachel Maddow.

An unimpressed Schumer said that Gorsuch had made similar remarks in their own private meeting, but pointed out that to “whisper to a senator behind closed doors” is wholly insufficient, while raising even more important questions about Gorsuch’s independence:

I asked Judge Gorsuch to publicly condemn Donald Trump’s attacks on the judiciary. I said “This president shows so little respect for an independent judiciary that the bar is higher and any nominee particularly by the Supreme Court by this president has to show independence.”

And I said to him, “You have an obligation to publicly condemn the actions of President Trump.”

He said, “Well, I’m disheartened by them.”

To whisper to a senator behind closed doors that he’s disheartened, without condemning, without making a public statement, is not close to enough. And I will tell you having seen Kelly Ayotte go on television and tout that she said it, I think it’s a way of the Republicans and the president trying to show independence when none really exists.

I gotta tell you this, Rachel — he did not answer any questions he should have. I asked him a simple question — is a Muslim ban unconstitutional. He wouldn’t answer it. He’s an originalist. I asked him about his view of the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, he wouldn’t answer it. Question after question after question, he refused to answer. You know what this reminds me of? I had an eerie feeling as I sat in that that meeting. Here was a judge, well groomed, intelligent, very polite, very, very articulate, who wouldn’t give his views on anything.

Justice Roberts, then Judge Roberts, assured us he’d call balls and strikes. He gets in office and his court does Citizens United, a huge break with precedent that ruins, ruins the politics of America. He repeals, basically, the Voting Rights Act by eliminating Section V, a sacred right, and I am very worried that Judge Gorsuch is similar. He’s going to not answer questions, he’s going to have a nice appearance, he’s going to claim he’s independent, but he has not exhibited any real independence whatsoever. And with this president, independence is more called for than ever.

Barely-reported or misreported, in all of this, is the fact that Kelly Ayotte’s statement is not actually a confirmation of Gorsuch’s remarks, but an attempt to walk them back. Ayotte notes that Gorsuch’s comments were not in response to Trump, but to “any criticism of a judge’s integrity and independence.”

The DNC echoed Schumer’s doubts in a statement emailed to Shareblue:

While Donald Trump’s morning tweets show Steve Bannon may not have clued him in on the ruse, this is clearly a meaningless White House orchestrated attempt to help Judge Gorsuch pretend he won’t be a rubber stamp for the Trump Administration. As Senator Blumenthal made clear, Gorsuch’s suspicious private criticism is not nearly enough to prove he’ll fulfill his duty as a check on the concerning and unconstitutional behavior of the President.

In characteristic form, Trump tweeted an attack on Blumenthal that attempted to cast doubt on his account of Gorsuch’s already-confirmed comments, ironically only raising the onus on Gorsuch to elaborate on his comments publicly.

This is not a profile in courage — it is a profile in cowardice. The comments attributed to Gorsuch are below the minimum expectation, were made in private, and then walked back. Worse than that, though, Gorsuch lacked the courage to even reply to Schumer’s very simple question on the constitutionality of a Muslim ban, or provide his view on the crucially relevant Emoluments Clause.

Democrats may lack the numbers to eventually scuttle this stolen nomination, but you can bet they will do all they can to expose Gorsuch’s fecklessness in the process.