WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s nominee for a seat on a federal court in Louisiana told senators on Wednesday her failure to disclose to lawmakers two appearances she made at pro-life events was an innocent oversight.
“Because of husband’s senate campaign, my public speaking, my jobs, there was a great deal out there, but my intent was always to be responsive and forthcoming,” Wendy Vitter, who is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, told senators Wednesday.
Vitter, who works as general counsel for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, faced questions at her nomination hearing Wednesday about a panel she moderated in 2013 where she encouraged women to ask their doctors about the work of Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, an anti-abortion doctor who appeared on the panel and claims birth control pills cause cancer and make women more likely to be victims of assault and murder.
Vitter said she first heard about Lanfranchi’s controversial opinions during the panel and that she encouraged women to speak with their doctors about them because they would be in a better position to judge their accuracy.
Lawmakers also pressed Vitter to explain her appearance at a 2013 rally opposing the construction of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Louisiana where she made comments claiming the organization kills more than 150,000 females per year. Vitter clarified to Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, that she was referring to the number of female fetuses that are aborted each year.
Vitter did not disclose these appearances, as well as several in support of her husband, former Republican Sen. David Vitter, to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but insisted she was not trying to hide her pro-life convictions from lawmakers.
While she affirmed her personal opinions on abortion when asked Wednesday, she was adamant they will not impact her decision making if she is confirmed to the bench.
“Senator, out of respect for this committee, although I would normally say that my religious and personal views don’t have any bearing on this role, out of respect, I am pro-life, I’m going to say that,” Vitter said Wednesday.”I will also look you or anyone else in the eye and say that those views I take seriously to set aside.”
But Hirono was skeptical Vitter would be so successful in abandoning her deeply held beliefs in favor of precedent.
“Would you acknowledge that there are times when your role as a judge would require you to resort to your life experiences, your views?” Hirono asked. “Can you sit here and say that those would never come into play because you will always find a precedent that is foursquare with the case that you’re working?”
Vitter insisted she could, noting there is a lengthy history of politicians becoming successful, impartial judges.
“Is it easy? I don’t think so,” Vitter said. “I don’t think anything about this is easy. I take it extremely seriously. I understand the gravitas of the position that you are considering me for. I am humbled and awed. My integrity means more to me than anything else to me and if I say that I will take up a conscious effort and put aside my personal views, my religious views and political views and judge a matter on facts presented to me and the law, that’s what I will do.”
Protestors wearing pink Planned Parenthood shirts filled the back rows of the Senate Judiciary Committee room on Wednesday, as liberal groups have come out strongly against Vitter’s nomination.
The controversy surrounding Vitter’s nomination made her hearing one of the few in which a district court nominee has received more attention from lawmakers than a nominee for a federal appellate court who appeared before them on the same day.
Mark Bennett, Trump’s nominee to the Ninth Circuit, sailed through his time before the committee, with senators mainly asking the former Hawaii attorney general about his view of precedent and work experiences that would shape his approach to the bench.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., ended her first set of questions for Bennett by asking him about his appearance on the game show “Jeopardy.” Bennett told Klobuchar he did not remember which question finally ended his run on the show, but that he won his first appearance by correctly answering which performer on the “Grand Ole Opry” wore a price tag on her hat.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, proved to be Bennett’s most skeptical questioner, pressing the nominee on why he signed Hawaii onto an amicus brief supporting Washington D.C., in the landmark Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller.
Bennett explained the brief he signed onto was not supporting the city’s restrictions on handgun ownership, but rather aimed to remind the justices to keep their ruling in the case narrow.
“The reason Hawaii joined that brief in Heller was to take the position that the court need not reach the question of whether the Second Amendment was incorporated and applicable to the states,” Bennett told Cruz.
The committee also heard testimony from Judge Nancy Brasel and Eric Tostrud, who are both up for seats on the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota, and Judge Robert Summerhays, who is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.
Brasel serves as a district court judge for Minnesota’s Fourth Judicial District, while Summerhays is a bankruptcy judge on the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Louisiana. Tostrud currently works as an adjunct professor at the University of Minnesota Law School and as of counsel at the Minneapolis firm Lockridge Grindal Nauen.