During his confirmation hearing Tuesday, Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch was asked to address an allegation in recent days that he suggested to a law school class that women manipulate maternity leave to take advantage of employers.
“Did you ask your students in class that day to raise their hands if they knew of a woman who had taken maternity benefits from a company and then left the company after having a baby?” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) asked Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing.
“No, Senator, and I’d be delighted to actually clear this up,” Gorsuch replied. “The first I heard of this was the night before my confirmation hearing.”
Gorsuch said on Tuesday that an ethics hypothetical involving maternity leave was contained in a “standard textbook” he used while teaching legal ethics at the University of Colorado. He offered to share a copy of the text and the teacher’s manual with Durbin.
He said that the textbook contains a question “directed to young women” lawyers about a situation they may face as interviewees.
“The problem is this. Suppose an older partner woman at the firm that you’re interviewing at asks you if you intend to become pregnant soon. What are your choices as a young person?” Gorsuch said.
Gorsuch said that he and his students discussed “the pros and the cons in a Socratic dialogue that they can think through for themselves how they might answer that very difficult question.”
“I do ask for a show of hands not about the question you asked, but about the following question, and I ask it of everybody: How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment? An inappropriate question about your family planning?” Gorsuch said.
He said that he is “shocked every year” by the number of women who raise their hands in answer to the question.
“It’s disturbing to me. I knew this stuff happened when my mom was a young practicing lawyer, graduating law school in the 1960s. At age 20 she had to wait for a year to take the bar. I knew it happened with Justice O’Connor, couldn’t get a job as a lawyer when she graduated Stanford Law School and had to work as a secretary,” Gorsuch said, referring to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. “I am shocked it still happens every year that I get women, not men, raising their hand to that question. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify that.”