WASHINGTON (CN) - While delaying votes on two contentious nominees to federal appeals courts, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved a nominee to a federal court in Missouri with a history of handling anti-abortion litigation in court.
Sarah Pitlyk has worked for the last two years as special counsel at the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based public interest law firm that describes its mission as working to restore "respect in law for life, family and religious liberty."
While at the firm, Pitlyk has been involved with a host of abortion-related litigation, including working to defend an Iowa law that banned abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected and defending David Daleiden and the Center for Medical Progress in civil and criminal cases over undercover videos Daleiden released purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.
Pitlyk, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, also helped pen a friend-of-the-court brief last year urging the U.S. Supreme Court to take up a case over an Indiana law that barred abortions based on sex, race or disability and required abortion providers to bury or cremate fetal remains.
The brief argued abortion providers "target ethnic minorities" and that the abortion rights movement has its origins in racism and eugenics, pointing in particular to the support for eugenics that Margaret Sanger, who founded organizations that became what is now Planned Parenthood, expressed.
The brief makes arguments similar to those Justice Clarence Thomas made in an opinion concurring with the Supreme Court's decision in the case, which reversed the Seventh Circuit's ruling invalidating the fetal remains disposal requirements but left in place the court's ruling on the abortion restriction.
Democrats zeroed in on this work during her nomination process, saying her views on abortion are outside of the mainstream even for conservative nominees.
"Ms. Pitlyk has an extreme ideologically driven record," Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Thursday. "She should not be given the power of a lifetime appointment to the federal bench."
Pitlyk defended her record, saying at her nomination hearing that she would not be the first person with a controversial record to become a federal judge.
"I think I stand in a long line of other people who have sat at this table who have had histories in advocacy or in issue-related advocacy or in politics and who have become very distinguished jurists," Pitlyk said at her nomination hearing in September.
She also noted that litigation over abortion has only been a major part of her practice for the past few years, as she handled a wide range of issues unrelated to abortion when she worked at the Washington, D.C., firm Covington & Burling and at the Runnymede Law Group.
Pitlyk also defended her qualifications after the American Bar Association rated her not qualified for the position. The ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary faulted Pitlyk for falling just short of the 12 years of legal experience the organization recommends for judicial nominees, and for her lack of trial experience.