Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch on Tuesday addressed allegations from a former student that he made controversial comments about women and family planning during a class session last year.
Jennifer Sisk, a former student of Gorsuch at the University of Colorado Law School, wrote a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee last week alleging that Gorsuch said in class last April that women often manipulate maternity leave to extract benefits from companies and argued firms should ask female applicants about their plans to have children during the interview process.
Another former student of Gorsuch,Will Hauptman, wrote a separate letter to the committee disputing Sisk's characterization of what happened.
"Although Judge Gorsuch did discuss some of the topics mentioned in the letter, he did not do so in the manner described," Hauptman said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) asked Gorsuch during his Senate confirmation hearing what was actually discussed that day in class.
"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?" Durbin asked.
Gorsuch denied asking that question and said he would be "delighted" to explain what happened, saying that he asked students whether or not prospective employers had asked them "an inappropriate question about" their "family planning."
Gorsuch explained that he teaches a course on legal ethics from a "standard textbook that a number of professors use," which contains a section on some of the difficulties lawyers face in life. In that section, Gorsuch said, a question is posed to women, asking what their choices are if an older female partner at a law firm asks an interviewee if she plans on getting pregnant.
He noted that the interviewee might be a debt-strapped law graduate who needs money, but may not get the job if she says that she plans on getting pregnant.
"We talk about the pros and the cons in a Socratic dialogue so that they can think through for themselves how they might answer that very difficult question," Gorsuch said.
He explained that he asks all of his students, male and female, "How many of you have had questions like this asked of you in the employment environment, an inappropriate question about your family planning?"
"And I am shocked every year, senator, how many young women raise their hand," Gorsuch continued. "It's disturbing to me."
Gorsuch said he knew this activity occurred in the 1960s but is "shocked" it still happens to women today.
"I am shocked it still happens every year that I get women, not men, raising their hand to that question," Gorsuch told Durbin. "Thank you for the opportunity to clarify that, senator."