GOP Iffy on 'Neil Gorsuch of Louisiana'

GOP Iffy on 'Neil Gorsuch of Louisiana'

November 30, 2017

The Senate doesn't hurry to do anything, but on President Trump's judges, they're certainly trying. Moving at a record-setting pace, GOP leaders like Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) are a well-oiled confirmation machine in a chamber that's usually more sluggish than a group of teenagers on a weekday morning. Making the most of the busy days before year-end, Republicans are hosting another string of hearings on the president's nominees.

Kyle Duncan's turn came yesterday, as Grassley and other Republicans moved to give the White House another victory in one of the more conservative appellate courts in America: the Fifth Circuit. As they have with most of the president's nominees, conservatives lavished praise on the Louisiana native for a resume that includes everything from successfully challenging Obamacare's contraceptive mandate for Hobby Lobby to serving as the state's solicitor general.

"In addition to Hobby Lobby," Louisiana Attorney Jeff Landry pointed out, "Duncan has served as counsel for parties and friends of the court (amici) in some 40 cases before the Supreme Court. Again, his work has not gone unnoticed. The National Association of Attorneys General awarded him its Best Brief Award for his written advocacy. Twice." Even the American Bar Association, which isn't exactly nonpartisan, labeled Duncan "well-qualified."

Everyone seems to understand what a great addition Duncan would be to the Fifth Circuit – everyone, except Republican Senator John Kennedy (La.). For reasons no one seems to understand, Kennedy continues to drag his feet on the nomination, even going so far as to criticize Duncan in Wednesday's hearing for assuming a job in the nation's capital. "I have received scores of phone calls from experienced, accomplished, whip-smart, pro-life, pro-religious liberty Louisiana lawyers and judges," Kennedy said, "who have asked me why I would support a Washington lawyer for this seat over them."

Asked how he should respond to those critics, Duncan reminded his home state senator that he grew up in Louisiana, went to LSU for undergrad and law school, and served the state in the executive branch. "I have spent a significant and ... prime part of my legal career defending the laws the people of Louisiana passed," Duncan replied. "Those were not easy cases." Still, Kennedy went on, "I hope Mr. Duncan can demonstrate to me today that he is the 2nd coming of Justice Holmes or Justice Scalia and not the 2nd the cousin of somebody who is politically connected in the Washington swamp."

The Louisiana senator, who tried to cover himself by praising Duncan's pro-life and pro-religious liberty views, already raised plenty of other eyebrows by voting against another of Trump's picks, Greg Katsas. Pitting himself against Duncan would seem even more absurd. But then, John Kennedy has always had some catching up to do on conservative values. In the early 1990s, before Kennedy switched parties, he worked for Louisiana's Governor Buddy Roemer, a Democrat at the time. As this Times-Picayune article reminded voters, "Now a critic of Roe v. Wade, Kennedy was Roemer's legal adviser when the governor vetoed a sweeping abortion ban, and he supported abortion rights as a candidates for attorney general."

Like a lot of observers, Dan Fagan wonders if John Kennedy is actually as pro-life as he says he is. "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." I agree. Being from Louisiana and having held office there I know both men. Kyle Duncan is the real deal. Kennedy's vote on Kyle Duncan will define his record moving forward. Is he a legitimate pro-life conservative, who understands the need for judges who respect the Constitution? Or is he a political opportunist in a pro-life state who wants nominees to have "evolving" views like his own?

Landry, who joined me on "Washington Watch" Wednesday, called Duncan the "Neil Gorsuch of Louisiana" -- not a shabby comparison for a budding judge.

"I think a lot of people in America realize that many of the ills plaguing our country are coming from activist judges. And where we have diverted from... what the law is to what the law ought to be. And of course, one of the things that definitely brought Donald Trump into the presidency was the activist judiciary, and his commitment to put people -- men and women -- up for appointment to the judiciary who respected the rule of law and were strict constructionists, in the [mold] of Neil Gorsuch and the late Antonin Scalia. Kyle Duncan fits that particular mold [which is especially important] in one of the more conservative circuits we have in the country, and that's the Fifth Circuit."

President Trump has done his part, nominating excellent constitutionalists to the bench. Now it's your turn to do yours. Contact Senator John Kennedy (202-224-4623) and tell him to live up to his pro-life values by voting yes on Kyle Duncan!

Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.

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