DOJ turns over documents pertaining to Gorsuch's Bush tenure

By Ariane de Vogue CNN Supreme Court Reporter

(CNN) -- The Department of Justice has given a Senate committee documents pertaining to significant cases handled by the department during Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's tenure as a senior government lawyer from 2005-2006.

The Wednesday night release of the more than 144,000 pages of documents -- pursuant to a February 21 request from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and ranking member Dianne Feinstein -- comes less than two weeks before Gorsuch's confirmation hearing and could shed light on his work during his relatively brief tenure serving in the George W. Bush administration.

"As requested by the committee, the department has identified documents related to Judge Gorsuch's service as principal deputy associate attorney general, including Judge Gorsuch's staff file, as well as electronic mail related to significant cases handled by the Department during Judge Gorsuch's tenure," wrote Acting Assistant Attorney General Samuel R. Ramer in a cover letter addressed to the senators.

Ramer said that 144,182 documents would be available in searchable PDF format, but that 3,136 documents would only be provided to committee staff for in camera, or private, review because of "certain confidentiality interests."

A White House spokesman, speaking on background, said that since Gorsuch was announced, "over 222,000 pages of documents regarding Judge Gorsuch's record have been provided to the Judiciary Committee, making this one of the most transparent processes in nomination history."

"Judge Gorsuch's experience and background prove he is exceptionally qualified to be the next Supreme Court justice, and he has had bipartisan and wide ranging meetings with 72 senators -- with most calling for a fair up-or-down vote," the spokesman said.

In a separate cover letter, the DOJ also responded directly to a February 22 request to Gorsuch from Feinstein requesting information regarding his role with respect to 10 specific cases that the DOJ was litigating during his time at the Justice Department.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Ryan Newman wrote that Gorsuch "played a role" in some high profile national security matters, including Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case concerning detentions at Guantanamo Bay. According to the letter, Gorsuch's role involved "reviewing the DC Circuit and Supreme Court opinions; participating in discussing litigation options ... and participating in developing case strategy."

In another Guantanamo-related case, Boumediene v. Bush, he "reviewed pleadings in preparation for an appellate court moot in which he participated."

Jennifer Daskal, a professor at American University Washington College of law who worked on national security issues in the Department of Justice during the Obama administration is anxious to see the extent of Gorsuch's involvement in the national security cases.

"Judge Gorsuch's response indicates that he was significantly involved in at least three cases in which the Department of Justice made very broad claims about the scope of executive power in matters of national security," she said. "It will be important for the committee and the public to learn more about what he advised at the time and his views now."

Significantly, Newman said that the searches "did not indicate" that Gorsuch had played a role in Gonzales v. Carhart, a case in which the Supreme Court ultimately upheld the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act.

Newman said Gorsuch's role in an early same-sex marriage case, Smelt v. County of Orange, was limited "to monitoring developments." The case was tossed out in 2006 on a threshold issue.

At the time, Gorsuch was serving as the principal deputy to the associate attorney general. In his Senate questionnaire, Gorsuch detailed his role that included spending a "substantial amount of time reviewing and editing trial and appellate court legal briefs and developing case strategy" as well as assisting "in managing the department's civil litigating components"

His confirmation hearing is set to begin March 20.

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