GUPTA: On Brown v. Board Anniversary, Senate Judiciary Committee Will Vote on Nominees Who Won’t Endorse It

Linda Brown was a third grader when her father started a class-action suit in 1951 of the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. (AP Photo)

On the 64th anniversary of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision this Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will observe our nation’s fight against segregation in a most unusual way: by voting on three judicial nominees who refuse to endorse the Supreme Court’s landmark decision. Brown v. Board was the beginning of the end of institutionalized segregation in this country.

In response to a straightforward question from Sen. Richard Blumenthal last month, Louisiana District Court nominee Wendy Vitter refused to say whether the Supreme Court correctly decided Brown v. Board of Education. It was a stunning moment caught on video.

Vanita Gupta
Vanita Gupta

Given that millions of people watched this video, one would imagine the coaching sessions for Trump’s nominees would have prepared them for the question to be asked again, but just two weeks later, Trump’s Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals nominee, Andrew Oldham joined four other White male district court nominees, including Eastern District of Texas nominee Michael Truncale, in also refusing to say whether Brown v. Board was correctly decided.

It wasn’t a trick question. Current Supreme Court justices — including Justices Thomas and Gorsuch — supported Brown at their nominations hearings.

Considering that the Senate Judiciary Committee stands poised to vote on their nominations this Thursday — 64 years following the groundbreaking and unanimous Brown decision — their refusal to agree with this landmark ruling should serve as a wakeup call for what President Trump is trying to do to our independent courts.

The impact of confirming far-right extremists to lifetime seats on the federal bench is an affront to civil and human rights that will far outlast this administration. Each of the three nominees would sit on courts within the Fifth Circuit (Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi), which has historically been one where key questions about civil rights are raised, from voting rights to educational opportunity. The circuit has the largest percentage of people of color of any circuit in the nation and considers a sizeable number of civil rights cases involving racial and other forms of discrimination. If confirmed, these nominees would be a danger to the over 30 million people who reside in the Fifth Circuit and indeed to the entire country, since lower court judges have the power in some cases to issue nationwide injunctions.

Federal judges must address hard and complex questions every day. If a judicial nominee to a lifetime appointment cannot endorse the proposition that the Supreme Court correctly decided to end legalized apartheid in our nation’s public schools, they are unfit to serve on the bench. Period.

Beyond their disqualifying refusal to answer this question, these nominees have records that are deeply concerning to the civil and human rights community. In addition to a history of hostility to immigrant rights, Vitter has embraced fringe and discredited views about contraception — views that she failed to disclose to the Senate. Thirty-nine-year-old Oldham has worked to restrict voting rights, immigrant rights and women’s health — as well as seeking to undermine environmental protection and gun safety. He has even questioned the very existence of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Michael Truncale has echoed Trump’s fearmongering about the Mexican border and has called for the abolition of the U.S. Department of Education.

By voting to advance Vitter, Oldham, and Truncale to the Senate floor on Thursday, senators on the Senate Judiciary Committee will be affirming that these nominees’ extreme views are now acceptable, that people in America do not deserve fair-minded jurists on the federal bench, and that Brown v. Board of Education was not correctly decided. All committee members must stand on the side of justice and protect our federal courts by voting to reject these three extreme judicial nominees.

Vanita Gupta is president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

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