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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.

Cases: 482902

Reported Deaths: 9425
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33063488
Hinds31021589
DeSoto30610358
Jackson23687348
Rankin21340370
Lee14909220
Madison14166271
Jones13404227
Forrest13160240
Lauderdale11601305
Lowndes10443176
Lamar10214130
Pearl River9098221
Lafayette8241137
Hancock7514112
Washington7102150
Oktibbeha6964124
Monroe6514164
Neshoba6475201
Warren6464164
Pontotoc630393
Panola6250126
Marshall6126123
Bolivar6115144
Union574186
Pike5613136
Alcorn537290
Lincoln5303131
George471472
Scott459196
Leflore4476140
Prentiss446779
Tippah446480
Itawamba4444100
Adams4416116
Tate4394101
Simpson4335112
Wayne433066
Copiah431787
Yazoo423386
Covington415792
Sunflower4148104
Marion4099104
Leake397586
Coahoma3957100
Newton370875
Grenada3556104
Stone350860
Tishomingo336289
Attala325387
Jasper314162
Winston304691
Clay296473
Chickasaw287065
Clarke282190
Calhoun266141
Holmes262187
Smith250649
Yalobusha221047
Tallahatchie220450
Walthall211058
Greene209045
Lawrence206833
Perry199953
Amite198452
Webster196542
Noxubee178939
Montgomery172454
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162137
Tunica153334
Benton142535
Kemper138640
Choctaw127026
Claiborne126834
Humphreys126637
Franklin116728
Quitman103926
Wilkinson101936
Jefferson91333
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1926
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 789054

Reported Deaths: 14022
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1115991765
Mobile708511234
Madison49865633
Shelby36274315
Baldwin36242495
Tuscaloosa33931548
Montgomery33190678
Lee22680220
Calhoun21211410
Morgan19816335
Etowah19300462
Marshall17680274
Houston16823386
St. Clair15442305
Cullman14602258
Limestone14581188
Elmore14480264
Lauderdale13520281
Talladega12958236
DeKalb12199237
Walker10588330
Blount9720157
Autauga9667137
Jackson9385158
Coffee8882175
Dale8609173
Colbert8534184
Tallapoosa6673181
Escambia6591121
Covington6452167
Chilton6385144
Russell607255
Franklin5795101
Chambers5416134
Marion4800120
Dallas4705189
Clarke463279
Pike462397
Geneva4413117
Winston425895
Lawrence4117108
Bibb409381
Barbour347270
Marengo326285
Monroe320053
Butler318290
Randolph305956
Pickens305274
Henry301858
Hale292685
Cherokee289855
Fayette279673
Washington245448
Crenshaw238470
Cleburne235851
Clay228565
Macon220158
Lamar197743
Conecuh182046
Lowndes170758
Coosa170235
Wilcox159736
Bullock149243
Perry136537
Sumter124536
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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