WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats on Wednesday grilled a former Republican Mississippi state lawmaker now up for a federal judgeship on his political past, including his support for overturning the Supreme Court's landmark abortion decision and his record on issues from guns to voting rights.
Judge Cory Wilson, who now sits on the Mississippi Court of Appeals, spent 2016 to 2019 as a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Before entering elected office, he spent time in private practice and as deputy secretary of state and chief of staff in the Mississippi Secretary of State's Office.
The 49-year-old Wilson, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, faced pressure from Democrats during his nomination hearing about comments he made both during and before his time in office and his record as a state politician on issues like the Affordable Care Act, abortion, guns and gay rights.
"After reviewing Judge Wilson's speeches, publications and votes from his time in the Mississippi House, I am concerned that his record may very well fall outside of the mainstream on issues including women's reproductive rights, gun safety, voting rights and the rights of LGBT Americans," Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday.
Regarding the ACA, Wilson called the health care law more commonly known as Obamacare "illegitimate" and urged the Supreme Court to strike it down as unconstitutional. He also told Mississippi Right to Life in a 2007 questionnaire that he supported the reversal of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade and while in the Legislature he voted for bills that banned abortions after 15 weeks and after a fetal heartbeat is detected.
Conservative states have passed a spate of similar laws in recent years, launching contentious and closely watched court battles that could determine the future of abortion rights.
As with other judicial nominees who have needed to defend themselves against allegations of partisanship, Wilson told senators on Wednesday that the job of a judge and the job of a politician are fundamentally different and that his personal views on issues would not travel with him to the bench.
"Basically, personal preferences, policy views, policy preferences are not what I consider to be a legitimate part of judging," Wilson said.
But Democrats have been frustrated by that answer in the past and were no more welcoming when Wilson said it on Wednesday. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, pointed out that even if Wilson promised to follow the Roe v. Wade precedent, he would still have significant discretion in how to interpret and apply the decision.
"My question is, even in applying Roe v. Wade, isn't there room for interpretation?" Hirono asked. "This is why we still have so many lawsuits involving the extent to which a women's right to choose is protected. This is why so many states are passing laws that restrict a women's right to choose and this is why there's litigation going on even as we speak."
"That's what happens," Hirono added after Wilson said he did not want to comment on cases that might come before him. "That's why we have judges."
The American Bar Association rated Wilson qualified for the position.
Questions for Wilson dominated the hearing Wednesday morning, though he appeared alongside four other nominees to federal courts. In addition to Wilson, the Judiciary Committee heard from William Hardy, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania; John Heil, up for a seat shared between the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Eastern and Western Districts of Oklahoma; U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana nominee David Joseph; and Court of Federal Claims nominee Edward Meyers.