Trump judicial nominee refuses to say if Brown v. Board of Education decision was correct

Senators questioned Wendy Vitter about her views on abortion and school segregation.

Wendy Vitter, wife of former Sen. David Vitter, is sworn in during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Wendy Vitter, wife of former Sen. David Vitter, is sworn in during her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Wednesday, April 11, 2018. CREDIT: Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Wendy Vitter, a lawyer nominated by President Trump for district judge of the Eastern District of Louisiana, would not tell senators she believed Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided.

During her Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Wednesday, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked her whether she agreed with the 1954 landmark case that declared state laws allowing school segregation were unconstitutional.

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Vitter, counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, said, “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.”

When Blumenthal asked again, “Do you believe it was correctly decided?” Vitter answered, “My personal, political, or religious views I would set aside.”

Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, tweeted that if people are outraged at her response, they should contact senators on the committee.

Vitter also responded to questions about her views on abortion.

Vitter’s anti-abortion views are well known, but she omitted a 2013 Right to Life panel discussion from her Judiciary Committee questionnaire. Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) questioned her about the omission, which Vice first reported. In 2013, Vitter led the panel, called “Abortion Hurts Women’s Health,” where one of the attendees said abortion increases women’s breast cancer risk, although there is no causal link between the two. Vitter then told people who were watching the panel to pick up a brochure that said women who take birth control pills are more likely to die violently. According to Vice, the brochure read, “It is not unreasonable to suspect that such effects could also influence rates of intimate partner violence.”

Vitter responded to Hirono by saying she did not pick the event’s speakers.

“I had never heard those views before,” she said to the senator.

Vitter’s response to questions on racial discrimination in education isn’t entirely out-of-step for Trump nominees.

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Kenneth Marcus, nominated for the head of the Office for Civil Rights within the U.S. Department of Education, evaded questions about racially disparate school discipline in January. The Office for Civil Rights receives complaints about racially disparate student discipline. National data shows that that students of color are often disciplined far more often and more severely than their white peers.

Marcus said, “Senator, I believe disparities of that size are grounds for concern, but my experience says that one needs to approach each complaint and compliance review with an open mind and a sense of fairness to find what out what the answers are. I have seen what appeared to be inexcusable disparities that were the result of paperwork errors. They just got the numbers wrong.”

Marcus founded the Brandeis Center in 2011. In 2012, it filed an amicus brief opposing race conscious admissions in the Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin case.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has not committed to answering basic questions about federal policies on discrimination against students in her hearings with senators either.

Last year, before she was confirmed, Sen. Murphy asked DeVos about whether she would maintain a requirement that schools submit civil rights data to the department. The department gathers data on student enrollment, discipline, and educational programs and and disaggregates it by race and ethnicity, disability, gender, and English proficiency. She would not commit to continuing to require that the data be submitted. “That is absolutely stunning,” Murphy said at the time.

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Trump’s picks for the Department of Health and Human Resources have similar anti-abortion views as Vitter. Charmaine Yoest, who was tapped for the position of assistant secretary of public affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services last spring, is a well known anti-abortion activist. Teresa Manning, Trump’s pick for the position of deputy assistant secretary for Population Affairs at HHS, falsely claimed there was a link between breast cancer and abortion and that birth control doesn’t work. Both Yoest and Manning have since left their positions. Valerie Huber, who is an advocate for abstinence education, took Manning’s place as acting deputy assistant secretary.