Louisiana Judge Confirmed Over Concerns About Abortion Views

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate confirmed a New Orleans attorney to a seat on a Louisiana federal court Thursday, overcoming objections from Democrats concerned about her views on abortion rights.

Nominated to serve as a federal judge in Louisiana, Wendy Vitter testified on April 11, 2018, before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Wendy Vitter, who works as general counsel to the Archdiocese of New Orleans, faced questions about comments she made at a rally opposing the construction of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Louisiana, in which she said the group kills more than “150,000 females a year.”

At her nomination hearing last year, Vitter said she was referring to the number of abortions performed at Planned Parenthood facilities each year.

The former prosecutor also faced questions about other comments she made about abortion, including 2013 praise of a restrictive Texas abortion law and a remark at a panel the same year in which she encouraged women to look into the work of Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a controversial anti-abortion doctor who has claimed birth control pills cause cancer.

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee were particularly troubled that Vitter did not initially disclose some of the comments to the committee. Vitter insisted it was an oversight and that she did not mean to hide her views from senators. The wife of former Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, she said the public nature of her job and her involvement in her husband’s political campaigns made it difficult for her to turn up all of her public comments.

When pressed on her views of abortion rights and the Supreme Court holdings that underpin them, Vitter told the committee that while she is personally opposed to abortion, those views would not impact her rulings on the federal 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 am going to say that,” Vitter said at her nomination hearing. “I will also look you or anyone else in the eye and say that those views I take seriously to set aside.”

Democrats, however, said that Vitter’s views on abortion represent a larger effort from Republicans to install conservative judges who will eventually chip away at Roe v. Wade and the cases that have followed it.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in particular tied the vote to restrictive state abortion laws passed in recent days.

“When our Republican friends vote for these radical, hard-right judges, they are saying they want to repeal Roe v. Wade, even if they won’t say it directly,” Schumer said on the Senate floor Thursday.

Vitter received confirmation in a 52-45 vote on Thursday afternoon. Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, was the only Republican to vote against her.  

Vitter also faced criticism from Democrats and liberal groups for her refusal at her nomination hearing to say that the landmark Supreme Court holding Brown v. Board of Education striking down school segregation was correctly decided.

“Senator, I don’t mean to be coy, but I think I get into a difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions, which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with,” Vitter said during her hearing, when asked about the case. “Again, my personal political or religious views I would set aside. That is Supreme Court precedent. It is binding. If I were honored to be confirmed I would be bound by it and of course I would uphold it.”

Several of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees have given similar answers when asked about the famous decision, citing canons of judicial ethics that say nominees should not publicly comment on issues that might one day come before them on the bench.

While Democrats and outside groups have blasted the nominees for dodging questions about the decision, experts say the nominees are likely not hiding contempt for perhaps the court’s most famous case, but are trying to avoid answering whether the Supreme Court correctly decided other, more contentious, cases.

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