Kansas Federal Court Pick Defends Work in Support of Voter-ID Laws

WASHINGTON (CN) — Up for a seat on a federal court in the state, the solicitor general of Kansas defended his involvement Wednesday in cases taking conservative positions on funding for Planned Parenthood, voter-ID laws and other contentious legal issues.

Toby Crouse has served as Kansas solicitor general since 2018, having spent his career before that in private practice in and around Kansas City. He also clerked for Judge Monti Belot, a George H. W. Bush appointee, on the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas and Judge Mary Briscoe, a Bill Clinton appointee, on the 10th Circuit.

The U.S. Capitol in Washington. (Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

Appearing Wednesday for a nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Crouse has been rated well qualified by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Like other Trump nominees who worked as the top appellate lawyer in a red state before being chosen for a seat on the federal bench, Crouse faced questions from Democrats about positions Kansas took in high profile legal battles while he was in office.

And like other nominees with similar backgrounds, Crouse told skeptical senators he took the positions he did on behalf of the state because it was his job to defend the state’s interests and the laws its legislature passed.

“I would just point out that my role as an advocate on behalf of the state is to file pleadings on behalf of my client,” Crouse said.

But Senator Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat, was not satisfied with Crouse’s assurances, saying his record in the solicitor general’s office suggests he will not approach issues neutrally if confirmed.

“Your public statements, the amicus briefs that you joined as solicitor general of Kansas and many other aspects of your career show that you have an anti-choice, anti-LGBTQ rights, anti-immigrant, anti-voting rights, pro-Second Amendment agenda,” Hirono said. “And I think you can understand why some of us on this committee would have concerns about your objectivity should these kinds of cases come before you should you be confirmed.”

One dispute that drew scrutiny from Democrats was a lawsuit over Kansas’ attempt to pull Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood.

That push traced back to 2015, when the anti-abortion activist group Center for Medical Progress posted a series of undercover sting videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal remains obtained from abortions.

Planned Parenthood claimed the videos were selectively edited in a way that distorted the conversations, though the Center for Medical Progress has insisted any edits were only for time.

Kansas launched investigations into two Planned Parenthood affiliates over the videos and, though it did not turn up evidence of the sale of fetal remains, ultimately told the affiliates they could not participate in the state’s Medicaid program.

A federal court enjoined Kansas’ action, the 10th Circuit affirmed and the Supreme Court declined to take up the state’s appeal. Much of the litigation took place before Crouse joined the solicitor general’s office, but the petition asking the Supreme Court to take up the case included Crouse’s name.

The petition to the high court mentioned the Center for Medical Progress videos, describing them as “revealing” that Planned Parenthood “was selling body parts from fetuses obtained during abortion procedures.” 

When Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, pressed Crouse on whether his office made any corrections to the brief, Crouse said the factual background was from the district court record and that he did not have any information to suggest a correction would be necessary.

“I believe the petition was accurate, I’ve not seen anything to indicate it wasn’t,” Crouse said.

In addition to the Planned Parenthood litigation, Crouse also faced questions about his work on a case over a Kansas law that required voters to show proof of citizenship when registering to vote.

A federal judge in Kansas found the law unconstitutional in June 2018, writing that instances of noncitizens attempting to register to vote in the state were exceedingly rare. The 10th Circuit upheld that decision in April, finding the law “undisputedly has disenfranchised approximately 30,000 would-be Kansas voters.”

When asked about his defense of the law at his nomination hearing Wednesday, Crouse noted it was an act of the state’s legislature and it was therefore his job to defend it in court.

Crouse fielded nearly all of the questions senators posed to the panel of five nominees, all of whom appeared virtually.

The other nominees who testified on Wednesday were U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio nominees Philip Calabrese and James Knepp, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida nominee Aileen Cannon, and U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio nominee Michael Newman.

All of the nominees will now await a vote in the committee. If they receive approval from the Republican-controlled panel, they will proceed to a confirmation vote before the full Senate.

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