Bench Memos

The Senate “Debate” on the Pillard Nomination

Glutton for punishment that I am, I’ve reviewed the Senate “debate” that took place on Wednesday night on the controversial nomination of Cornelia Pillard to the D.C. Circuit. (For anyone similarly inclined, see discussion scattered across S8608-S8667 of the Congressional Record.) Some observations:

1. Senate majority leader Harry Reid opened the discussion with the brazenly false assertions that “No one is saying a single word contrary to her [Pillard] being the quality candidate that we have said she is” and that “There are no objections to her qualifications.” I’d be inclined to say that lying is second nature for Reid, except that it seems to have become first nature.

2. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Chuck Grassley (ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee) gave extensive statements detailing many of their objections. Other Republican senators, such as Marco Rubio, also weighed in.

3. The only Democrat who attempted to offer any response to Republican objections was Pat Leahy, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman. But Leahy’s response was feeble and deceptive.

Leahy charged that “On the issue of abortion, Republicans have cherry picked quotes and taken them out of context to try to paint her [Pillard] as someone she is not.”

The reader might recall (see This Day for July 14, 2009) that Leahy, at the outset of Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearing, made the same charge in trying to defend Sotomayor’s notorious “wise Latina” comment—and then proceeded to misquote Sotomayor’s line to eliminate the very elements of the comment that rendered it controversial. Likewise for Pillard, it’s Leahy who cherry-picks a single quote from Pillard as though that quote could dispel Pillard’s manifest extremism on abortion.

Leahy even complained about a “double standard” on abortion and cites Senate confirmation of three Republican judicial nominees who had expressed views that were anti-Roe or anti-abortion. But Leahy didn’t disclose that he and other Democrats overwhelmingly opposed two of those nominees. They filibustered and otherwise obstructed William H. Pryor Jr.’s Eleventh Circuit nomination for more than two years and voted against his ultimate confirmation. (Pryor was confirmed by a 53-45 vote, with only two Democrats supporting him.) And more than 40 of them (Leahy of course included) voted against the district-court nomination of Leon Holmes. So it’s Leahy who has the double standard of opposing nominees on the basis of their views on abortion while maintaining that it’s illegitimate for Republicans to do so.

On Pillard’s extremism against religious liberty, Leahy also falsely claimed that Pillard was merely offering a “prediction” on how the Hosanna-Tabor case would turn out. In fact, she condemned the church’s position in that case—a position unanimously embraced by the Supreme Court—as “a substantial threat to the American rule of law.”

4. In sum, Democrats showed themselves incapable of mustering any remotely plausible defense against Republican objections to Pillard.

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