Louisiana Election

Louisiana state treasurer John Kennedy hugs his wife Becky after addressing supporters at his election watch party, after being elected to the senate seat vacated by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

If you’re like me and believe the safest place in the world for a baby should be in a mother’s womb, then Judicial nominee Kyle Duncan is a dream candidate for the bench. Duncan is President Trump’s choice to serve on the powerful 5th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Duncan’s pro-life credentials are without blemish.

"Kyle Duncan has an impressive record as an appellate attorney, including successful litigation in defense of laws regulating abortion enacted by Louisiana and Texas. Among his areas of special expertise is the free exercise of religion. We strongly support his swift confirmation by the U.S. Senate," said Douglas D. Johnson, senior policy advisor for National Right to Life.

For some bizarre reason, the self-proclaimed pro-life Sen. John Kennedy has not committed to supporting the Duncan nomination. And he won’t say why. 

Traditionally, when the president forwards the name of a judicial nominee, the home state senator of the pick can block it by refusing to forward what is called a “blue slip.” Kennedy refused to pledge his support for Duncan and was slow in returning the blue slip. A spokesman for Kennedy said last week that the senator had turned in the blue slip but was noncommittal about whether he would support Duncan.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley opted to break with Senate tradition and schedule a hearing for Duncan anyway; the Kennedy spokeswoman told The Advocate that Kennedy did not want to block the hearing and looks forward to questioning Duncan.

“A blue slip policy allowing a single senator to block a nominee from even receiving Committee consideration is a more extreme example of a counter-majoritarian practice,” said a memo released earlier this month by Grassley’s staff.

As you might expect the left is not happy with Grassley’s decision. “Grassley brushed aside years of his own statements in support of the blue slip process and buckled to the demands of Senator McConnell to turn the Senate Judiciary Committee into a rubber stamp for Donald Trump,” said Marge Baker, the executive vice president for the hard left group, People for the American Way.

Kennedy’s office would not respond to my question as to why the senator has yet to support the Duncan nomination. If Kennedy is the conservative he often boasts to be, he should have no doubts about the Duncan nomination unless he knows something the rest of us don’t.

The lifetime appointment of the 45-year-old Duncan to the 5th Circuit is one of the reasons many of us held our noses and voted for Trump, hoping he would put conservative jurists on the bench. After eight years of President Barack Obama appointing judges willing to ignore the Constitution and legislate from the bench, the election of Trump gave us hope. I would imagine many voted for Kennedy for the same reason. It’s all about the judges.

If Kennedy, who is one of the 11 to 9 majority of Republicans sitting on the Senate Judiciary Committee, is a no vote, it will kill the Duncan nomination. All nine Democrat members are expected to vote no.

“In the Judiciary Committee, Sen. Kennedy will be the deciding vote on Mr. Duncan’s nomination, so it is imperative that he votes to confirm Mr. Duncan. We cannot afford to give pro-abortion Democrats the gift of defeating one of President Trump’s outstanding court nominees,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

Kennedy has run for the U.S. Senate three times, failing the first two. In 2004, he ran as a pro-life Democrat, and then in 2008 and 2016 as a Republican. It’s no secret it’s a lot easier getting elected to statewide office in Louisiana as a Republican than a Democrat.

In light of Kennedy’s attempt to block the nomination of Kyle Duncan it’s fair to wonder if his conversion to the Republican Party is a calculated move of political opportunism. Kennedy clearly has a propensity for the spotlight and is well known for his clever quips designed to draw media attention.

Is it possible political ambition drove Kennedy to pull a fast one and dupe conservatives into believing he was one of them? I guess we’ll know this Wednesday when the Senate holds a hearing on the Duncan nomination.

Editor's note: This column was changed Nov. 26 to clarify that U.S. Sen. John Kennedy says he supports holding a hearing for Kyle Duncan.

Dan Fagan is a former TV and radio broadcaster who lives in Metairie. Email him at faganshow@gmail.com.