Trump’s latest nominee for district judge is not sure about desegregation

Wendy Vitter is Trump’s latest nominee for district judge in Louisiana. Her nomination is highly controversial, and not only because the counsel for New Orleans’ Catholic archdiocese has only ever judged one federal case, over two decades ago. During her confirmation hearing, Vitter also made waves by refusing to discuss certain established US civil rights.

Yesterday, Vitter was questioned by lawmakers about her long-held anti-abortion and anti-contraception views. The nominee refused to disavow false claims about birth control, hormonal contraceptives, and abortion that she has made in the past: In 2013, while leading a panel titled “Abortion Hurts Women” Vitter claimed that that oral contraceptives can be linked to adultery and a promiscuous lifestyle that can expose women to increased risk of “violent death.” At the same panel, she encouraged anti-abortion doctors to offer brochures claiming that abortion causes cancer—a statement for which there is no scientific evidence. At a 2013 rally against Planned Parenthood, she falsely claimed that the organization “kills 150,000 female a year.”

If confirmed as a judge, Vitter could end up deciding cases invoking the right to abortion provided by the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Roe v Wade. Based on past statements, her stance on abortion and birth control could threaten Louisiana women’s access to birth control and abortion, in a state where there are only three abortion providersleft.

But while the judge nominee’s antagonism towards reproductive rights was known ahead of the hearing, another civil rights wrinkle emerged during her confirmation hearing. Asked whether Vitter supports the Supreme Court 1945 decision on Brown vs Board of Education, which ended the racial segregation in schools, she responded that she would “get into a difficult area” by commenting on SCOTUS decisions which, she says, though correctly decided, “she may disagree with.”

However, Vitter did say that as district judge she would set aside her own “personal, political and religious views” to respect the Supreme Court’s legal precedent.

“It is binding,” Vitter says, “I would be bound by it and of course I would uphold it.”

[Quartz]

Trump presses GOP to use “nuclear option” and change Senate rules for judicial nominees

The Trump administration is putting pressure on Senate Republicans to crack down on Democratic efforts to delay its agenda, fueling talk about the need for rules reform among Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Republicans are in discussions with Democrats about bipartisan changes to Senate rules to speed up consideration of President Trump’s judicial and executive branch nominees, but if that effort flounders — as similar ones have in the past — they’re not ruling out unilateral action.

White House patience with the Senate’s backlog of nominees is wearing out, as Vice President Pence made clear during a private meeting with the Senate Republican Conference on Tuesday, according to lawmakers who attended the discussion.

White House legislative affairs director Marc Short on Friday accused Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) of “weaponizing” the rules to keep executive and judicial branch positions vacant.

Short noted that Democrats have required Republicans to hold 79 cloture votes on nominees during Trump’s first 14 months in office.

“That’s roughly five times the number of the last four administrations combined,” he said.

A cloture vote ends dilatory action on a bill or nominee and is often used to end filibusters. It requires 60 votes to pass.

During the first 14 months of the past four administrations — a span of 56 months under Presidents Obama, George W. Bush, Clinton and George H.W. Bush — the Senate held 17 such votes, according to Short.

He promised that Trump would begin to speak out aggressively in response to what he called “historic obstruction.”

“I think that perhaps I’m a warm-up act for him making a larger foray into this,” Short told reporters.

He said Trump would “make his case to the American people that the objection has gotten ridiculous.”

A spokesman for Schumer on Friday blamed the administration and Senate Republicans for the backlog of nominees.

“This administration has been historically slow in submitting nominations and has withdrawn more nominees in the first year than any of the past four administrations,” said the Schumer aide.

The Democratic aide also noted there are currently 145 nominees awaiting action from Republican-controlled committees.

Trump has withdrawn more than 20 nominees and failed to submit nominations for State Department posts such as the ambassadorships for Cuba, Egypt, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Sweden.

Senate Republicans are reaching out to Democrats in hopes they might agree to changing the Senate rules to shorten the amount of time it takes to process nominees.

Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is spearheading that effort.

“We’re desperately behind on judges and noms,” Lankford told The Hill. “We’ve had a cloture vote 80 times. That’s more than the last four presidents combined.”

A Republican aide said Lankford “has had some positive private conversations about this with Democrats, many of who realize that this trend is really, really bad.”

But such bipartisan efforts have fallen short in the past, prompting speculation among some GOP senators that changing the rules with 51 votes — a controversial tactic known as the “nuclear option” — may be the only way to get something done.

“We need to reduce the amount of post-cloture time for nominees. The amount of time we now spend is ridiculous,” said one GOP senator who requested anonymity to discuss Tuesday’s conversation with Pence.

Senate rules require 30 hours to elapse on the floor once the Senate votes to end dilatory debate on a nominee, which empowers the minority party to eat up the calendar by refusing to yield back time.

The use of the nuclear option — which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) employed last year to eliminate the Democrats’ power to filibuster then-Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch — wouldn’t likely happen until the next Congress.

Republicans control only 51 seats and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who is undergoing treatment for brain cancer, hasn’t voted since early December, reducing their effective majority to 50.

A single GOP defection would scuttle any attempt to change Senate precedent through a ruling of the chair, which needs to be sustained by a majority vote.

Republicans, however, hope to expand their majority. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, pointed to an Axios poll this week showing that if the election were held today, Republicans could capture as many as five Democratic-held seats.

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published in August, Lankford argued for shrinking the amount of time required to elapse after cloture has been filed on executive nominees from 30 hours to eight or less.

He pointed out that the Senate adopted this expedited process for a short time in 2013 under then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who also invoked the nuclear option to eliminate filibusters for executive branch nominees and judicial nominees below the level of the Supreme Court.

“It worked then and it would work now,” Lankford said.

There is strong support among junior Republican senators for changing the rules.

“The intention of the original filibuster and cloture was to allow for extended debate of issues, not for obstruction of a party’s administration by delaying of nominee votes, so Sen. Perdue would like to see these rules changed,” said Caroline Vanvick, a spokeswoman for Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.).

Democrats argue that Republicans slow-walked Obama’s nominees once they gained control of the Senate.

Senate Republicans forced cloture votes on 168 of Obama’s nominees in 2015 and 2016, even though 62 of those nominees were later confirmed unanimously or by voice vote.

Democrats also argue that McConnell broke Senate tradition under Obama by holding up his nominee to the Supreme Court, Judge Merrick Garland, for 10 months, until Trump took office.

The action left the high court shorthanded for most of 2016.

[The Hill]

 

Trump judge nominee, 36, who has never tried a case, wins approval of Senate panel

Brett J. Talley, President Trump’s nominee to be a federal judge in Alabama, has never tried a case, was unanimously rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Assn.’s judicial rating committee, has practiced law for only three years and, as a blogger last year, displayed a degree of partisanship unusual for a judicial nominee, denouncing “Hillary Rotten Clinton” and pledging support for the National Rifle Assn.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee, on a party-line vote, approved him for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench.

Talley, 36, is part of what Trump has called the “untold story” of his success in filling the courts with young conservatives.

“The judge story is an untold story. Nobody wants to talk about it,” Trump said last month, standing alongside Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) in the White House Rose Garden. “But when you think of it, Mitch and I were saying, that has consequences 40 years out, depending on the age of the judge — but 40 years out.”

Civil rights groups and liberal advocates see the matter differently. They denounced Thursday’s vote, calling it “laughable” that none of the committee Republicans objected to confirming a lawyer with as little experience as Talley to preside over federal trials.

“He’s practiced law for less than three years and never argued a motion, let alone brought a case. This is the least amount of experience I’ve seen in a judicial nominee,” said Kristine Lucius, executive vice president of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

The group was one of several on the left that urged the Judiciary Committee to reject Talley because of his lack of qualifications and because of doubts over whether he had the “temperament and ability to approach cases with the fairness and open-mindedness necessary to serve as a federal judge.”

Some conservatives discount the ABA’s rating. “The ABA is a liberal interest group. They have a long history of giving lower ratings to Republican nominees,” said Carrie Severino, counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, which supports Trump’s nominees. She said past liberal nominees have been rated as qualified even if they had little or no courtroom experience.

Talley does have some other qualifications, some traditional, others less so. He grew up in Alabama and earned degrees from the University of Alabama and Harvard Law School. He clerked for two federal judges and worked as a speech writer on the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney. And, like many people who eventually became federal judges, he became the protege of someone who became a senator.

In Talley’s case, the mentor was Republican Sen. Luther Strange, the former Alabama state attorney general who was appointed to the Senate in January to replace Jeff Sessions, who left the Senate to become U.S. attorney general. Talley worked for Strange as a deputy.

Typically, senators play the lead role in recommending nominees for the federal district judgeships in their state. Talley also had something of an inside track. This year, when Sessions moved to the attorney general’s post, Talley took a job in the Justice Department’s office that selects judicial nominees.

Trump and McConnell have succeeded in pushing judicial nominees through the Senate because the Republicans have voted in lockstep since taking control of the chamber in 2014.

When Trump took office in January, there were more than 100 vacant seats on the federal courts, thanks to an unprecedented slowdown engineered by McConnell during the final two years of President Obama’s term. The Senate under GOP control approved only 22 judges in that two-year period, the lowest total since 1951-52 in the last year of President Truman’s term. By contrast, the Senate under Democratic control approved 68 judges in the last two years of George W. Bush’s presidency.

The best known vacancy was on the Supreme Court. After Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016, McConnell refused to permit a hearing for Judge Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee. Trump filled the seat earlier this year with Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

The Alliance for Justice, which tracks judicial nominees, said Trump’s team is off to a fast start, particularly when compared with Obama’s first year. By November 2009, Obama had made 27 judicial nominations, including Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Trump has nominated 59 people to the federal courts, including Justice Gorsuch. That’s also a contrast with Trump’s pace in filling executive branch jobs, where he has lagged far behind the pace of previous administrations.

Liberal advocates are dismayed that Republicans have voted in unison on Trump’s judges.

“So far, no one from his party has been willing to stand up against him on the agenda of packing the courts,” said Marge Baker, vice president of People for the American Way.

Last month, when the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on several other nominations, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Talley about his fervent advocacy of gun rights. In a blog post titled a “Call to Arms,” he wrote that “the President and his democratic allies in Congress are about to launch the greatest attack on our constitutional freedoms in our lifetime,” referring to Obama’s proposal for background checks and limits on rapid-fire weapons following the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

“The object of that war is to make guns illegal, in all forms,” Talley wrote. The NRA “stands for all of us now, and I pray that in the coming battle for our rights, they will be victorious,” he added.

A month later, he reprinted a “thoughtful response” from a reader who wrote: “We will have to resort to arms when our other rights — of speech, press, assembly, representative government — fail to yield the desired results.” To that, he wrote: “I agree completely with this.”

When pressed, he told the senators he was “trying to generate discussion. I wanted people to be able to use my blog to discuss issues, to come together and find common ground.”

In a follow-up written question, Feinstein asked him how many times he had appeared in a federal district court.

“To my recollection, during my time as Alabama’s deputy solicitor general, I participated as part of the legal team in one hearing in federal district court in the Middle District of Alabama,” he replied.

On Thursday, the Judiciary Committee approved White House lawyer Greg Katsas on a 11-9 vote to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and then approved Talley on another 11-9 vote. The nominations now move to the Senate floor, where a similar party-line result is expected.

[Los Angeles Times]