The U.S. Senate confirmed Wendy Vitter to a Louisiana federal court seat Thursday, approving a nominee who drew significant opposition from civil rights and abortion rights groups.
Vitter, currently general counsel to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans, was confirmed 52-45, overcoming criticism of her past views on abortion and an answer she gave at a confirmation hearing last year on a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case. Only one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, defected from party ranks and opposed Vitter’s nomination.
Vitter is the 65th federal trial court judge confirmed under President Donald Trump’s administration.
Vitter became a lighting rod among liberals last year after declining to address whether she believed the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 desegregation ruling in Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided. Her response came in an exchange with Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, during her confirmation hearing.
“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,” Vitter said, adding that the ruling was “binding” and she would “of course” uphold if it confirmed to the bench.
When she was pressed again for an answer, Vitter explained: “[I]f I start commenting on ‘I agree with this case’ or ‘don’t agree with this case,’ I think we get into a slippery slope.” Democrats slammed Vitter for the exchange, and a social media clip went viral.
Nearly all of the president’s judicial picks have sidestepped Blumenthal’s question, declining to endorse the correctness of any high court precedent. Blumenthal also asks nominees about their views on the abortion rights case Roe v. Wade. Still, civil rights groups have begun a pressure campaign to urge senators to reject picks who refuse to answer the question.
Blumenthal accused four nominees of being coached on how to answer his question on Brown after giving similar answers during a hearing in April. That hearing involved nominees Steven Grimberg, Ada Brown, David Novak and Matthew Solomson.
Vitter’s nomination also became mired in concerns about her views and past statements on abortion rights. Senate Democrats have all criticized Vitter for her participation on a 2013 panel titled “Abortion Hurts Women’s Health,” and for encouraging the distribution of a brochure that linked contraceptives to higher rates of violent death.
The same year, Vitter gave remarks at an anti-Planned Parenthood rally, where she reportedly said it was “the saddest of ironies” that a group that says it promotes women’s health also “kill[s] over 150,000 females a year.” Democrats slammed Vitter for those appearances, and for failing to disclose both sets of remarks to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
Vitter attempted to distance herself from the comments during her confirmation hearing, vowing to “set aside any personal or religious views” on abortion if confirmed. She told lawmakers she was “not a medical professional” and meant to encourage people to seek the advice of their doctors. She said her “150,000 females” comment was a reference to aborted fetuses.
Vitter, who is married to former U.S. Sen. David Vitter, will fill the vacancy left by Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan, who took senior status. She was first nominated to the New Orleans-based U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana in January 2018.
Vitter began working for the Roman Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of New Orleans in 2012, first working as a project director and then as general counsel. Vitter did not practice law between 1997 and 2012, according to her Senate paperwork.
She briefly worked as a New Orleans-based associate attorney at Abbott & Meeks Law Firm from 1992 to 1993. Before that, Vitter worked at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office, joining them as a law clerk in 1983 and eventually rising to become the office’s chief of trials.
Vitter graduated from Sam Houston State University in 1982 and Tulane Law School in 1986.