Senate panel advances judicial nominees who drew controversy for Brown v. Board answers

Two controversial judicial nominees, who declined to say during their confirmation hearings whether the landmark Supr...

Posted: May 24, 2018 5:21 PM
Updated: May 24, 2018 5:21 PM

Two controversial judicial nominees, who declined to say during their confirmation hearings whether the landmark Supreme Court opinion barring segregation in public schools was correctly decided, were narrowly approved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

The 11-10 vote, divided down party lines, advances the nominations of Wendy Vitter and Andrew Oldham to the Senate floor.

The vote comes as Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley is leading the charge to reshape the face of the judiciary. So far the Senate has confirmed 39 judicial nominees: Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court, 21 appeals court nominees and 17 district court judges.

Vitter and Oldham's nominations were vigorously debated at an earlier hearing last week that happened to fall on the 64th anniversary of the release of Brown v. Board of Education.

At her confirmation hearing in April, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, asked Vitter about Brown v. Board of Education. Vitter said she didn't mean to be "coy" but that she would get into a "difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions -- which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."

She went on to say that if she were confirmed to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, she would be "bound by Supreme Court precedent.

Democratic senators noted that Chief Justice John Roberts and Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy both testified in their confirmation hearings that Brown was correctly decided.

"What does it say about a nominee" that could not say "clearly and unambiguously" that Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided? the panel's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked. Feinstein said the two nominees are not "within the legal mainstream."

But Republicans suggested the Democrats were engaged in a ploy meant to smear the names of nominees who were simply following the rules of judicial ethics meant to ensure impartiality.

"I speak for all my colleagues when I say there is no question that this opinion was correctly decided," said Grassley, who called it "very unfair and simply inaccurate" to suggest the nominees "somehow disagree with Brown."

Judicial conservatives argued Vitter declined to answer the Brown question because she believes that judges should maintain their impartiality by declining to put forward personal opinions on particular cases.

They pointed to Vitter's testimony later in the hearing, when Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, asked the question a different way.

"I am not asking about precedent," he said. "I just want to know about what you think about the social policy of having schools, Ms. Vitter, segregated by race, even if they are equal. Can we agree that is immoral?"

Vitter said, "Yes."

Vitter serves as the general counsel of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans and is married to Louisiana's former Republican senator, David Vitter.

Oldham, 39, who currently serves as general counsel to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, is a nominee up for a seat on the powerful 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals. He answered the Brown question by saying that "even the most universally accepted Supreme Court case is outside the bounds of a federal judge to comment on."

Oldham went on to say that Brown corrected "an egregious legal error" by overturning the legal policies established in Plessy v. Ferguson back in 1896 and it "abolished segregation in public schools."

But Blumenthal persisted on Brown, asking: "Was it correctly decided in terms of what you know?"

Oldham held firm and cited that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg also believed a nominee should not talk about precedent.

"The canons of conduct and the line that was articulated by Justice Ginsburg when she sat in this chair before this committee, where she said that her role as a nominee was to give 'no hints, no previews and no forecasts,' applies just as much to me," Oldham said.

"When inferior court judges come before this committee with a list of cases that they like and a list of cases that they don't, it turns the structure of Article III of the Constitution on its head," he said.

After a pause, Blumenthal responded, "I can't believe that you just gave me that answer."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 31257

Reported Deaths: 1114
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds253640
DeSoto162016
Madison131434
Jones112849
Neshoba99271
Rankin95112
Harrison93311
Lauderdale91079
Forrest87842
Scott77315
Jackson63816
Copiah60715
Washington5919
Leake57819
Holmes55741
Lee55219
Wayne54513
Oktibbeha54126
Warren51618
Yazoo5136
Lowndes49413
Leflore49151
Grenada4905
Lincoln46634
Lamar4657
Pike44112
Monroe40330
Sunflower4008
Lafayette3934
Attala36123
Covington3595
Panola3526
Bolivar34014
Newton3399
Simpson3233
Adams31318
Pontotoc2926
Tate28810
Marion28411
Chickasaw27918
Claiborne27910
Noxubee2678
Winston2666
Jasper2636
Pearl River25732
Clay25111
Marshall2343
Smith21811
Union2109
Clarke20724
Walthall2045
Coahoma2016
Kemper17914
Lawrence1782
Yalobusha1737
Carroll16611
Humphreys1509
Tallahatchie1374
Itawamba1368
Montgomery1352
Calhoun1324
Tippah13111
Hancock13013
Webster12710
Jefferson Davis1124
Jefferson1083
Prentiss1083
Greene1058
Tunica1053
Wilkinson949
Amite912
George893
Tishomingo831
Quitman780
Choctaw744
Alcorn712
Perry674
Stone651
Franklin452
Benton380
Sharkey380
Issaquena91
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 45263

Reported Deaths: 1007
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson5410152
Montgomery4158103
Mobile4129134
Tuscaloosa232142
Marshall172410
Madison14917
Lee141137
Shelby133423
Morgan11215
Walker97824
Elmore94314
Franklin89814
Baldwin8949
Dallas8919
Etowah75013
DeKalb7375
Chambers64227
Butler63428
Autauga61012
Tallapoosa60569
Russell5650
Houston5074
Unassigned50323
Limestone5010
Lauderdale4966
Lowndes47221
Cullman4594
Pike4375
Colbert4086
St. Clair4022
Escambia3966
Coffee3812
Calhoun3765
Covington3707
Bullock36910
Barbour3532
Talladega3177
Hale31421
Marengo31211
Dale2990
Wilcox2948
Sumter28512
Jackson2842
Clarke2776
Winston2633
Chilton2522
Blount2431
Monroe2392
Pickens2366
Marion23313
Conecuh2107
Randolph2099
Macon1999
Choctaw19512
Bibb1941
Greene1868
Perry1791
Henry1363
Crenshaw1253
Washington1117
Lawrence1100
Cherokee1027
Geneva830
Lamar781
Fayette711
Clay692
Coosa591
Cleburne381
Out of AL00
Tupelo
Few Clouds
88° wxIcon
Hi: 90° Lo: 74°
Feels Like: 97°
Columbus
Broken Clouds
84° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 73°
Feels Like: 94°
Oxford
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 87° Lo: 71°
Feels Like: 90°
Starkville
Clear
82° wxIcon
Hi: 85° Lo: 70°
Feels Like: 87°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather