Brownback: Judicial Activism A-OK When It Favors Austere Religious Values


Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican who sits on the Judiciary Committee, was holding up a roster of 13 judicial nominees by refusing to vote on the appointment of Judge Janet Neff to a Federal District Court. Yesterday, he relented, agreeing to vote on the nomination.

Brownback was stonewalling, as it were, because he had learned that Neff had attended the (lesbian) commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor’s daughter. That’s right, Neff was a guest at one same-sex ceremony. Brownback had graciously offered to move forward if only Neff would agree to recuse herself from all cases related to same-sex unions.

 brownback200.gif
Let’s follow this to its illogical extreme. Any judicial nominee who has attended a party sponsored by Budweiser or Absolut must recuse him or herself from all cases related to the alcohol industry. Any nominee who has hugged a woman or in anyway offered support after an abortion must recuse him or herself from all cases related to Roe v. Wade. And so on.

In some cases, more judicial independence could be a good thing. But Brownback hasn’t taken that position in the past. Indeed, he has supported appointees who had been outspoken opponents of abortion and same-sex marriage but claimed they would rule based on their legal expertise, rather than their personal opinions. Neff, who hasn’t made any outspoken claims supporting or opposing same-sex marriage, has, however, said that her legal expertise would guide her through any decisions on the matter.

What’s more, legal scholars have voiced widespread concern that Senator Brownback’s request that Neff agree, as a condition of his vote, to handle cases in a certain way is unconstitutional.

When (metaphorically) confronted with a copy of the constitution, Brownback was unabashed. He indicated that he needed more reassurance from Judge Neff that her presence at the ceremony did not indicate insurmountable bias. Brownback would now like Neff to testify before the Senate about her neighbor’s ceremony. Neff, and everyone else involved in the private commitment ceremony, are now essentially on trial.

Compare Brownback’s single-handed delay of the Senate’s confirmation process to the suits filed by Gov. Mitt Romney and Vote on Marriage claiming that the Massachusetts legislature violated their right to due process by tabling an anti-gay marriage amendment. It doesn’t take long to see that their homophobia is making a perverse mockery of democracy.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

Share your feedback: We’re planning to launch a new version of the comments section. Help us test it.