President Donald Trump’s nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit downplayed his involvement in founding a conservative advocacy group in Pennsylvania during questioning before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney shareholder David Porter—the latest of Trump’s circuit court nominees to sit for a confirmation hearing despite objections of a home-state senator—fielded questions about his political past, including whether he “co-founded” the Pennsylvania Judicial Network. The group was formed in 2009, in part to oppose Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Porter, nominated in April, said his involvement was limited to a “15-second introductory call” from someone at the Judicial Crisis Network, the national advocacy group. They asked if he was available to participate in a second call about Sotomayor and judges in Pennsylvania.
“As it happened, I never participated in the second call or had any subsequent participation with the Judicial Crisis Network or that Pennsylvania project,” Porter said. Porter added that he learned in 2014 that his name appeared on a letter suggesting his role as a co-founder, but “I didn’t authorize or agree to having my name added to that letter.”
Porter also said he neither participated in, nor supported the writing of a network press release that called Sotomayor an example of “judicial elitism.”
During the hearing, Porter was also peppered with questions about his views on the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ rights and the scope of the Commerce Clause.
Asked about a paper he wrote several years ago, discussing Roe v. Wade’s “shaky theoretical foundation,” Porter attempted to clarify he “was referring to the debate essentially in the scholarship” and that the abortion decision was “absolutely binding precedent.”
In that continued line of questioning, Porter also became the latest Trump judicial nominee to decline to directly respond to questions from Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal on whether the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education was “correctly decided.”
“I could give you an answer to that question, but the reason why I, and other nominees, don’t is—well, there’s a couple of reasons. One is because we don’t want to appear to be giving an answer that would please you in order to obtain a vote,” Porter said. “And second, because the canons of judicial conduct prohibit us from opining about the merits of even landmark cases like Brown.”
Meanwhile, senators’ remarks at the outset of the hearing zeroed in on the fact that U.S. Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania declined to return a blue slip for Porter. That makes Porter the fourth circuit court nominee to get a hearing despite the objections of a home-state senator. The other nominees are Ryan Bounds, David Stras and Michael Brennan.
Liberal groups focused on judicial nominations have said they would oppose Porter’s nomination, but it appears unlikely he will face major obstacles to getting confirmed. After questioning Porter, senators also heard from five district court nominees: Holly Brady, Andrew Lynn Brasher, James Patrick Hanlon, David Morales and Lance Walker.