Trump Pick for Fifth Circuit Advances Past Senate Panel

Judge Cory Wilson is pictured here in 2016 as a Mississippi lawmaker. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A Mississippi appeals court judge and former Republican lawmaker advanced toward a seat on the Fifth Circuit with a party-line vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

Poised to be President Donald Trump’s sixth appointee on the Fifth Circuit, Judge Cory Wilson spent 2016 to 2019 as a Republican in the Mississippi House of Representatives but has been a judge on the Mississippi Court of Appeals since last year.

Trump initially tapped Wilson for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, then nominated him to appeals court seat in March after his first pick for the long-vacant position on the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit, Judge Sul Ozerden, faced rare conservative opposition in the Judiciary Committee.

Wilson took a step closer to the Fifth Circuit, which hears appeals of federal cases from Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, with a 12-10 vote from the Republican-controlled committee Thursday morning.

Democrats on the committee objected to Wilson’s political past, including positions he took on a range of issues from gun rights to abortion and the federal health care law.

Wilson has publicly called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act “illegitimate” and said the Supreme Court should strike it down as unconstitutional. The Supreme Court upheld the health care law in 2012, but a new challenge to the law that came through the Fifth Circuit is again before the high court.

The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Wilson, who graduated from Yale Law School in 1995, well qualified.

In 2007 Wilson said he supported the reversal of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. While in office, he also voted for bills that banned abortions after 15 weeks and after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Democrats also objected to his past support of voter-identification laws, particularly casting the position in light of widespread protests over police killings of black Americans and racial inequities in the United States. In a 2011 article, Wilson dismissed as “poppycock” allegations that a Mississippi voter ID law would suppress voters in the state.

He has also expressed concerns about voter fraud and in 2013 wrote then-Attorney General Eric Holder “whined” that voter ID laws were part of a Republican plan to make it harder for poor and minority voters to cast their ballots.

“His record, in fact, is an antithesis of what the American people are marching for and demanding right now,” Senator Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Thursday.

As with other Trump nominees, Wilson told senators his time in office and commenting on public policy represent a fundamentally different role than he would assume if confirmed to the federal bench. He told senators he would have “no problem whatsoever” ruling in favor of a law he disagreed with personally.

“All those comments you referenced in terms of my writings came at a time before I was ever a judge,” Wilson said at his confirmation hearing last month. “And the role is distinct, it is very different, and my personal views, political views and things have no place in deciding the cases that come before the court.”

Beyond his views on specific policies, Democrats also raised alarms about Wilson’s Twitter feed, where he aired sharply worded criticisms of Democratic politicians from President Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. 

He called Ocasio-Cortez a “claptrap” in one tweet and in another wondered whether Clinton was “felony dumb or willfully ignorant.”

“Comments like these show, to me, a temperament that have no place in our judiciary,” Delaware Senator Chris Coons said.

Wilson’s nomination now goes to the full Senate, where he will await a confirmation vote.

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