By Claire Zillman
March 21, 2017

On Sunday, NPR reported a shocking allegation against Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, whose confirmation hearing started yesterday. A former law school student of Gorsuch’s said the judge once told a class that employers should quiz female job candidates about their plans for having children, implying that women might extract maternity benefits from a company and quit shortly after taking their leave.

In a letter outlining her concerns, Gorsuch’s former student Jennifer Sisk said the nominee asked his students at the University of Colorado Law School how many of them knew of women who “manipulated” maternity benefits. When few students raised their hands, he “announced that…’many’ women use their companies for maternity benefits and then leave the company after the baby is born,” wrote Sisk, a former staffer for Democratic Senator Mark Udall. “He kept bringing it back to that this was women taking advantage of their companies, that this was a woman’s issue, a woman’s problem with having children and disadvantaging their companies by doing that,” Sisk told NPR.

Women’s groups—already concerned with Gorsuch’s record on access to birth control—pounced on the accusation, saying it disqualified him from the court. But the allegation also prompted Gorsuch supporters to spring to his defense.

Theresa Wardon, who clerked for Gorsuch from 2008 to 2009, told me it’s “inconceivable” that Gorsuch would “ever believe those things or say them in front of a class.”

Wardon, a partner at law firm Wheeler Trigg O’Donnell who characterizes herself as a Democrat, says the judge has been a “huge supporter” of her career and helped her decide to work at a small law firm. “The judge had done something similar and was super encouraging of me,” she says, adding that Gorsuch was one of the first people she contacted after making partner.

Wardon can’t remember ever discussing maternity leave specifically with Gorsuch, but says they talked about work-life balance. “I think he struggled with those issues himself as a dad; it’s something I could certainly turn to him about,” she says.

You can read more about what she told me here.

The White House, for its part, also denies Sisk’s allegations, telling Fortune they are “completely false.” Senators will begin questioning Gorsuch on Tuesday, so the judge may get a chance to speak on the matter himself.

@clairezillman

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