There was a time when judicial nominations were boring. I’m pretty plugged in, and even I used to have trouble sitting through hearings where a bunch of nerds fielded dry questions amid ambient throat-clearing noises.
Hell, I bet the Roman Senate could be dull too—until Caligula’s horse showed up and started grazing on codices. Now, if Donald Trump nominated a horse to a seat in the federal judiciary, I’d be like, “At least this one won’t accuse Planned Parenthood of ‘killing 150,000 females a year’ by providing abortion services,” and also “Aww, let’s get ‘em a lil’ wig.”
Well, Trump clearly heard my idea, said “hold my beer,” and gave us Wendy Vitter instead.
As for me, I am proud to own the title of layperson. I’m not qualified for a lot of things, but I’ll never let that stop me from reaching for the stars (with the rocket I’m building in the alley behind my house). Maybe that’s why I think Wendy Vitter is almost an inspirational figure. She has absolutely no place on the federal bench, and yet here she is, reciting the same lines about “putting aside” her “personal views” over and over like an incantation.
But don’t let Vitter trick you with misdirection. She’s dangerous, and here’s why.
- She’s not qualified. Sure, Vitter’s an attorney. But she hasn’t actually practiced law in decades. In fact, she has only tried one federal case, and even then it was as co-counsel, and that was 25 years ago. If I got a job for something I did once 25 years ago, I’d be an obstetrician, since technically I attended my own birth.
- She distributed pamphlets full of fear-mongering faux-medical nonsense to discourage women from using birth control. Vitter led an anti-abortion panel in 2013 where she promoted pamphlets called “The Pill Kills.” The title rhymes adorably for something that falsely claims that birth control leads to “violent death.” Then she said that she had no idea that the pamphlet even existed. At her confirmation hearing, when Senator Hirono whipped out the pamphlets—in a receipt-brandishing move to rival the best celebrity screenshot fight—Vitter stared blankly. (I’ve already typed the word “pamphlet” too many times. If you want more, you’ll have to wait for Wendy Vitter and Schrödinger’s Pamphlet, hitting shelves at Borders everywhere this summer. Or just read this.)
- Vitter can’t commit to Brown v. Board of Education. You know, the landmark Supreme Court case that desegregated schools by declaring “separate-but-equal” to be the obvious injustice we know it always was? Wendy’s on the fence. Either that, or she doesn’t know what Brown is. I have spent actual minutes of my short human life thinking about which is the answer, and I’ve concluded that it hardly matters. Either option is disqualifying.
- Vitter’s behavior following her nomination demonstrates a brazen lack of integrity. The Senate Judiciary Committee requires that federal judicial nominees complete an exhaustive questionnaire detailing, among other things, every one of their speaking engagements. Wendy Vitter’s questionnaire said nothing about the time she moderated a panel at a conference held by Louisiana Right To Life, an extreme anti-abortion advocacy group. Vitter’s panel was titled “Abortion Hurts Women’s Health” and it promoted that infamous—sing it if you know the words—PAMPHLET, as well as the false claim that abortion causes breast cancer. When questioned, Vitter claimed that Sen. Kamala Harris was misrepresenting her role on the panel, which is weird, because Sen. Harris has a video of it. But hey, who knows? They can make a dishonest hologram out of anyone these days.
- Louisiana deserves better. The state is among the most challenging fronts in the movement for reproductive justice. Louisiana legislators are constantly making craven attempts to undermine or eliminate the constitutional right to an abortion. What happens when the Louisiana legislature passes—say, I don’t know—some of the most restrictive abortion legislation in the entire United States? It’ll end up in federal court, and it’s the judge’s duty to uphold the Constitution, which (where’s my megaphone?) includes the right to decide to have an abortion. But if the judge is a wildly unqualified pamphlet-flinger whose anti-abortion beliefs are so deeply held that they actually warp her ability to digest information? I…honestly, it’s a major oversight that NWLC doesn’t stock paper bags for me to hyperventilate into.
Wendy Vitter claims that, if confirmed, she’ll uphold the law. And I want to believe her, because she’s so close to the judiciary that she’s fogging up Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s glasses. But you know those interactions where someone prefaces a bombshell revelation by making you “promise not to be mad?” It’s a trap, and so is this nomination. Wendy Vitter is promising to uphold laws she doesn’t seem to respect, in a context she doesn’t appear to understand, and with the endorsement of a president who doesn’t care.
When we’re running through these scenarios, I know it can be tempting to think, “Welp. Strike up the Titanic surrender-quartet.”
But here’s the thing. Wendy Vitter’s vote hasn’t happened yet. Matthew “Title IX Isn’t About Gender Equality” Kacsmaryk’s vote hasn’t happened yet. Thomas “I Genuinely and Aggressively Work to Disenfranchise Black People(!)” Farr’s vote hasn’t happened. Yet.
Call your Senators, and remind them that courts matter. The law protects us, but only if we protect it. Trump is hoping we won’t.