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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: 256827

Reported Deaths: 5638
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17331186
Hinds16373328
Harrison13731199
Rankin10854217
Jackson10557187
Lee8922141
Madison8335166
Jones6483112
Forrest6038120
Lauderdale5965187
Lowndes5425118
Lafayette503193
Lamar490865
Washington4826124
Bolivar4024109
Oktibbeha397681
Panola374680
Pontotoc369855
Monroe3591105
Warren3569100
Union348063
Marshall347769
Neshoba3413152
Pearl River3329103
Leflore3059107
Lincoln299386
Sunflower288271
Hancock282559
Tate274362
Alcorn267454
Itawamba265260
Pike264679
Scott250847
Prentiss248252
Yazoo247356
Tippah244450
Copiah243949
Coahoma242254
Simpson238368
Leake232966
Grenada220671
Covington215072
Marion215073
Adams207870
Wayne203232
Winston202667
George201939
Newton195044
Attala194659
Tishomingo191661
Chickasaw185744
Jasper174438
Holmes169168
Clay161335
Tallahatchie148235
Stone145921
Clarke141762
Calhoun137621
Smith122725
Yalobusha119134
Walthall112836
Noxubee111423
Greene111029
Montgomery110136
Carroll105321
Lawrence103217
Perry102831
Amite98826
Webster93924
Tunica87421
Claiborne86625
Jefferson Davis85827
Benton83323
Humphreys83324
Kemper78420
Quitman6969
Franklin67115
Choctaw61213
Wilkinson58825
Jefferson55419
Sharkey44017
Issaquena1596
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 429655

Reported Deaths: 6283
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson63040956
Mobile30794557
Madison27486201
Tuscaloosa20996268
Montgomery19352315
Shelby18833120
Baldwin16653184
Lee12749102
Morgan12389119
Etowah11861176
Calhoun11292201
Marshall10290113
Houston8746156
Limestone813276
Cullman8125106
Elmore7999104
DeKalb776599
Lauderdale768698
St. Clair7651121
Talladega6309108
Walker5954174
Jackson586341
Colbert539873
Blount537683
Autauga525755
Coffee450456
Dale402981
Franklin369948
Russell340711
Chilton338966
Covington332668
Escambia326043
Dallas308896
Chambers293170
Clarke287833
Tallapoosa2641107
Pike255230
Marion248953
Lawrence246649
Winston229535
Bibb218847
Geneva205446
Marengo202829
Pickens197531
Hale179542
Barbour176036
Fayette172928
Butler170858
Cherokee161930
Henry156523
Monroe149818
Randolph142135
Washington139126
Clay127645
Crenshaw121544
Cleburne119023
Lamar119021
Macon118637
Lowndes112036
Wilcox105121
Bullock101128
Perry99019
Conecuh95720
Sumter89626
Greene76623
Coosa61015
Choctaw51624
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