While U.S. Sen John Kennedy plays an important role on the Senate Judiciary Committee, he has not used his powerful position to protect his constituents, or the rest of the country, from President Donald Trump’s many unqualified judicial nominees.
As a former trial lawyer, Kennedy, R-Madisonville, is an effective questioner during confirmation hearings. He asks substantive questions and presses nominees for complete answers. But despite both his purported concern for the integrity of our judiciary and his repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with Trump’s nominees, Kennedy inexplicably keeps voting to confirm them. Indeed, out of more than 170 confirmed nominees so far, he has voted against only one of them — Deputy White House Counsel Gregory Katsas, Trump’s nominee to the D.C. Circuit Court. Kennedy’s reason was that Katsas would have a conflict of interest serving as a judge over matters involving the White House.
Recently, Kennedy voted to confirm the nomination of Steven Menashi to the Second Circuit even though Kennedy had previously told reporters that, because of Menashi’s evasiveness at the confirmation hearing, his vote to confirm was “real doubtful.” Kennedy’s change of heart was especially disappointing given both Menashi’s history of racist, sexist, and homophobic sentiments and his creation of billionaire Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ illegal scheme to deny debt relief to students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.
Menashi is just one example of Kennedy voting against his better judgment. Here are some more:
1. Kennedy voted to confirm the nomination of Wendy Vitter, the wife of Kennedy’s Senate predecessor, to a Louisiana District Court seat even though Vitter had failed to disclose that she had promoted a brochure falsely claiming that birth control is linked to breast cancer and “violent death.” Vitter had also purchased two homes containing Jim Crow covenants requiring sale “to people of the white race.” And when asked whether she supported the school desegregation outcome in Brown v. Board of Education, Vitter refused to answer.
2. Kennedy voted to confirm the nomination of John Bush, a right-wing blogger who helped spread the birtherist conspiracy about President Barack Obama, to the Sixth Circuit.
3. Kennedy voted to confirm the nomination of D.C. lawyer Kyle Duncan to the Fifth Circuit even though he was outraged that Duncan had so little experience practicing law in Louisiana.
4. Kennedy voted to confirm Justin Walker, whom the ABA rated as “unqualified” because his very short legal career involved no trial practice whatsoever.
In response to a question about the quality of Trump’s judicial nominees, Kennedy responded, “It is embarrassing. And I think the president of the United States is getting some very, very bad advice.” Well, Sen. Kennedy, then why on earth do you keep voting for these embarrassments? Please — finally — stop aiding and abetting Trump’s erosion of our Article III branch of government.
Ken Levy is Holt B. Harrison Professor of Law at LSU's Paul M. Hebert Law Center.