Trump judicial nominee refuses to say if landmark civil rights opinion was correctly decided

Wendy Vitter, one of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees, refused on Wednesday to say whether a landmark civil...

Posted: Apr 12, 2018 12:47 PM
Updated: Apr 12, 2018 12:47 PM

Wendy Vitter, one of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees, refused on Wednesday to say whether a landmark civil rights opinion was correctly decided, triggering outrage and renewed criticism of the President's efforts to reshape the judiciary.

At issue was Brown v. the Board of Education -- a seminal opinion that held that state laws requiring separate but equal schools violated the Constitution.

"I don't mean to be coy," Vitter, who is up for a seat on the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said at her confirmation hearing, "but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions -- which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."

Vitter -- who is the General Counsel of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is married to former Louisiana Republican Sen. David Vitter, who was implicated in the sex scandal concerning the so called "DC Madam" back in 2007 -- emphasized that, if confirmed, she'd set aside "personal, religious or political views" and she would be bound by Supreme Court precedent.

As the Twitterverse lit up with progressive fury, a few were quick to point out that Vitter, is not alone in the sentiment that nominees should not offer up their personal thoughts on decided cases.

But Brown v. Board of Education?

"It's a big deal if someone wants to be a judge, charged with dispensing equal justice for all, can't commit herself to the basic principle that the Constitution prohibits segregation designed to place a 'badge of inferiority' on an entire group of people based on the color of their skin," said Elizabeth Wydra of the Constitutional Accountability Center.

Kristine Lucius, of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, called Vitter's testimony "shocking." Lucius is no fan of other aspects of Vitter's record -- including on the subject of abortion -- and has urged the Senate to reject the nomination.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who launched the inquiry, often poses similar questions during Senate Judiciary hearings. Nominees -- asked about Brown and other landmark cases -- don't always have stock answers.

At times, other nominees -- even for the Supreme Court -- have declined to comment out of a fear of infecting the judicial process.

As Vitter said, there is a fear of a "slippery slope " that impartiality will be questioned.

Just last month, for instance, John B. Nalbandian, up for a seat on the Sixth Circuit, told Blumenthal that he thought that Brown was correctly decided and said he felt comfortable commenting upon it because it was a "accepted" and a "longstanding" precedent.

But he wouldn't talk about Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court abortion opinion. And he said he thought it was "inappropriate" to go down a list of Supreme Court opinions and express his opinions on whether they were correctly decided.

"I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment," he said, but added that as a circuit court nominee, he would be faithful to precedent.

But others, like Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts, didn't hesitate to say Brown was correctly decided.

Blumenthal asked the same question of Gorsuch during his confirmation hearing in 2017.

"Brown v. Board of Education," Gorsuch said, "was a correct application of law of precedent."

"There is no daylight," the future justice said.

In his own confirmation hearing, Roberts was happy to opine on Brown. "The genius of the decision was the recognition that the act of separating the students was where the violation was. And it rejected the defense -- certainly, just a theoretical one given the actual record -- that you could have equal facilities and equal treatment," he said.

But Justice Antonin Scalia would not even answer a question about Marbury v. Madison -- the very decision that asserted the power of judicial review -- back in 1986.

"Marbury v. Madison is one of the pillars of the Constitution," Scalia said. "To the extent that you think a nominee would be so foolish or so extreme as to kick over one of the pillars of the Constitution, I suppose you shouldn't confirm him," Scalia said.

"But I don't think I should answer questions regarding any specific Supreme Court opinion, even one as fundamental as Marbury v. Madison."

Scalia -- who would go on to become an outspoken conservative icon on the Supreme Court -- wasn't finished.

He told senators he "ought to be in trouble" if they were to uncover anything he'd written disregarding the opinion, "without you asking me specifically about my views."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 35419

Reported Deaths: 1230
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds290851
DeSoto190019
Madison144638
Jones120349
Harrison113616
Rankin108715
Neshoba104577
Forrest99343
Lauderdale96381
Scott81915
Jackson77519
Washington72213
Copiah65315
Leake63520
Lee61222
Oktibbeha61128
Grenada5949
Warren59421
Holmes58641
Wayne56218
Yazoo5536
Lowndes54813
Lamar5347
Leflore53156
Lincoln52935
Pike49920
Lafayette4974
Sunflower4778
Monroe45635
Panola4486
Covington4355
Bolivar40518
Simpson3933
Attala38424
Newton37510
Tate35213
Adams35120
Pontotoc3466
Marion32712
Claiborne30111
Chickasaw29719
Winston29511
Pearl River28832
Noxubee2788
Jasper2776
Marshall2773
Walthall2627
Clay25811
Union25211
Smith24612
Clarke22325
Coahoma2226
Lawrence2092
Yalobusha2079
Tallahatchie1954
Kemper18414
Carroll18111
Montgomery1713
Calhoun1645
Humphreys16310
Itawamba1468
Tippah14511
Hancock14413
Webster13411
Jefferson1263
Tunica1233
Jefferson Davis1204
Prentiss1204
George1163
Greene11310
Amite1103
Alcorn1002
Quitman991
Wilkinson989
Tishomingo971
Perry874
Choctaw754
Stone742
Franklin542
Sharkey480
Benton460
Issaquena101
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 49892

Reported Deaths: 1077
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson6433170
Mobile4753139
Montgomery4430112
Tuscaloosa263253
Madison21199
Marshall192611
Shelby164225
Lee157237
Morgan12695
Baldwin120711
Walker106131
Elmore102920
Dallas9969
Etowah95114
DeKalb9417
Franklin93216
Autauga67614
Russell6750
Chambers67427
Unassigned65328
Butler65129
Tallapoosa62869
Limestone6223
Houston5857
Cullman5716
Lauderdale5686
St. Clair5133
Colbert4956
Calhoun4905
Lowndes48122
Escambia4808
Pike4725
Coffee4244
Jackson4182
Covington41412
Barbour3942
Dale3911
Talladega3897
Bullock37710
Marengo35211
Hale34823
Chilton3232
Clarke3126
Wilcox3038
Blount2961
Winston2965
Sumter29113
Marion27514
Pickens2696
Randolph2589
Monroe2553
Perry2362
Conecuh2308
Bibb2211
Macon2159
Choctaw21212
Greene1959
Henry1533
Washington1418
Crenshaw1273
Lawrence1250
Cherokee1237
Geneva960
Lamar871
Clay852
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