Senate Democrats' Farcical Grilling of Justices Willett and Ho

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. questions former acting Attorney General Sally Yates and former National Intelligence Director James Clapper on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, May 8, 2017, during the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism hearing: "Russian Interference in the 2016 United States Election." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In a display of vengeful partisanship Wednesday, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee grilled the two Texas judges nominated by Donald Trump to serve on the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on subjects that had very little to do with judicial philosophy.


Justice Don Willett, who took most of the questions and barbs, and Justice Jim Ho were greeted by Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) grumbling about how quickly judicial seats have been filled as she stated she wished the committee had more time to go over both nominees’ “extensive and controversial” records.

Indeed, Willett and Ho were given a joint hearing, expediting the process on a busy day that included hearings for District Judges for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky and the District of Kansas.

Although Willett has 12 years judicial experience and writings to pull from, Feinstein chose to hone in on — and indeed would not deviate from — a 1998 procedural dissent on a memo from the George W. Bush administration that honored a women’s group using language that was obviously geared toward progressive partisanship.

“I resist the proclamation’s talk of ‘glass ceilings,’ pay equity (an allegation that some studies debunk), the need to place kids in the care of rented strangers, sexual discrimination/harassment and the need generally for better ‘working conditions’ for women (read: more government),” Willett wrote of the memo.

Feinstein, in a tenacious bit of opportune questioning given the current spate of sexual harassment allegations, asked Willett if he still held these beliefs and whether he would bring them to his appointment on the 5th Circuit.


Willett attempted to provide context for the memo, noting that its original language was partisan and, as such, violated the guidelines of his office at the time. He called his dissent a matter of procedure rather than personal observation.

Feinstein was dissatisfied with his response.

The grilling only grew more absurd from there, with Vermont Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy mentioning a joke tweet Willett — an avid Twitter user — made about supporting a constitutional right to marry bacon and calling it disrespectful to the Supreme Court.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), a former professional writer of jokes for Saturday Night Live, also took issue with another joke Willett tweet regarding a born-male athlete joining a girls’ softball team. Willett likened the athlete to professional baseball player Alex Rodriquez and told her to “go away” in his tweet.

“I don’t get it,” Franken said.

The true aim of their questioning — in addition to the obvious desire they all had to reintroduce well-known progressive policy ideas and inquire whether Willett supported them — was to complain that the hearings were unfair to Democratic members because they weren’t afforded enough time and access to adequately question Trump’s nominees.


Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse finally revealed that frustration near the end of the hearing when he referred to nominees being “rammed through,” even as he complained that a memo related to torture — the “Bybee Memo” — that Justice Ho (the first Asian-American Solicitor General of Texas) had some involvement in was unavailable to the committee and was indicative of the unfair hearing process. The Bybee Memo, Justice Ho tried to explain, was subject to attorney client privilege, but Whitehouse continued to grouse that the committee wasn’t allowed to view it.

Willett did manage to make the following statement regarding his judicial philosophy: “I am unshakably bound to the rule of law.”

The Democratic members of the committee didn’t seem to hear or care.


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