WASHINGTON — Wendy Vitter, the Louisiana native who set aside an ambitious legal career to stand by her husband through a scandal and an unsuccessful run for governor, is now a federal judge for life.
The U.S. Senate voted 52-45 on Thursday to confirm Vitter's appointment to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana based in New Orleans. President Donald Trump had nominated Vitter twice in the past 16 months.
“I am honored and truly humbled by this confirmation," Vitter said in a statement. "I look forward to working hard at the job and serving with fairness, compassion, and integrity.“
No Democrats backed Vitter, and one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, of Maine, also voted against her. Democrats had criticized her anti-abortion views and reluctance to judge the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark segregation-busting Brown v. Board of Education decision during a committee hearing.
Louisiana's U.S. senators, Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy, championed her nomination. Vitter's husband, David, had previously served as a U.S. senator and lost a bid to become Louisiana governor in 2015.
“She is immensely qualified to serve, and I wish her success in upholding the Constitution on behalf of the good people of the Eastern District," said Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.
He had said before the vote that it was "a shame the liberal left is using fabricated political smears to suppress the voice of a strong conservative woman." Cassidy said David and Wendy Vitter aided him "from the very beginning" in his successful effort to defeat incumbent Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu in 2014.
Kennedy, a Republican from Madisonville, replaced David Vitter in the Senate.
“Wendy is whip smart and articulate. She understands and appreciates the rule of law,” Kennedy said.
David Vitter is now a lobbyist with Mercury LLC.
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The American Bar Association, which grades all potential appointees to lifetime federal judicial appointments, rated Wendy Vitter as "qualified" but noted the 15-member panel wasn't unanimous.
Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pennsylvania, said before Thursday's vote Vitter has “virtually no federal trial court experience.”
Vitter, née Baldwin, graduated from the now-defunct Mercy Academy in New Orleans and holds a bachelor’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Texas. She earned her law degree from Tulane in 1986 and formerly worked as an Orleans Parish assistant district attorney and at a private firm. She has been general counsel to the Archdiocese of New Orleans since 2012.
Democrats this week renewed complaints about Vitter's long history of anti-abortion activism, including remarks she made at a 2013 protest at the site of a proposed Planned Parenthood clinic in Uptown New Orleans accusing the group of killing "over 150,000 females a year," and her participation in spreading false claims of links between birth control and cancer. U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, warned that she and other Trump nominees will damage the country for generations.
“We understand the president and Republicans will want conservatives, but hard-right, narrow ideologues who show no understanding or sympathy for people who don't look like them or pray like them or marry like them?” Schumer asked. “It's not hard. If you need the benefit of hindsight to understand that Brown v. Board of Education, which brought an end to school segregation and led to the end of American apartheid, was correctly decided, you shouldn't be a federal judge.”
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Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the federal judiciary, said Vitter's positions slowed the confirmation process.
“It did take a long time, partly because she was considered to be relatively controversial,” he said.
Louisiana residents would know Wendy Vitter as a tough-talking political spouse who proclaimed to reporters in 2000 — commenting about President Bill Clinton’s affair scandal while her husband was a congressman — that she would be “a lot more like Lorena Bobbitt than Hillary,” referring to the Virginia woman who severed her husband’s penis in 1993.
Seven years later, Wendy Vitter would herself end up dragged into a salacious politically tinged extra-marital embarrassment when David Vitter was linked via phone records to the infamous “D.C. Madam.” His troubles prompted a defiant, highly publicized “stand by your man” moment for Wendy Vitter, who by that time had already settled into life as a stay-at-home mom and part-time campaign surrogate for her husband.
"I stand before you to tell you very proudly, I am proud to be Wendy Vitter,” she told reporters in 2007, her husband at her side. She subsequently appeared in an advertisement touting her husband's political bona fides. Wendy Vitter asked for her family's privacy without directly mentioning the prostitution allegations. The couple has not publicly addressed the episode in the years since, aside from a campaign ad in which David Vitter said he had “failed (his) family — but found forgiveness and love.”
The Vitters have four children: Sophie, twins Lise and Airey, and Jack.
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During the 2007 spotlight, Wendy Vitter waved off comparisons between herself and Hillary Clinton, another lawyer who aided an ambitious husband’s political career, suffered through a public infidelity scandal and would eventually go on to seek her own political fortunes.
The Times-Picayune reported at the time that observers quickly dismissed the comparisons, “noting that Wendy Vitter did not have her own political ambitions in mind when she chose, as she put it, to recommit to the marriage.”