Wendy Vitter, Wife Of 'D.C. Madam' Senator, Faces Thorny Hearing To Be Federal Judge
You might recognize Wendy Vitter's last name.
She is the wife of former Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, implicated in the "D.C. Madam" sex scandal in 2007.
Now, President Trump has nominated her to a federal trial judgeship.
On Wednesday, she is likely to face some difficult questions about her statements on abortion and birth control at her Senate confirmation hearing to the post.
Who is Wendy Vitter?
Vitter has been a significant presence in Louisiana politics, sticking with her husband when the sex scandal became public.
After graduating from Tulane Law School in 1986, she joined the New Orleans District Attorney's office, which for years has been plagued with charges of misconduct.
In 1990, she became chief of trials. But after 1993, she left the practice of law for 19 years, instead helping to run her husband's political campaigns.
In 2012, she became general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Vitter's confirmation problem is that she failed to disclose a number of her public speeches and panel appearances — appearances that included highly controversial statements.
And while Vitter has since amended her disclosure form, that sort of supplemental filing was not acceptable to Republicans when the shoe was on the other foot during the Obama administration.
Linking birth control to "violent death"
Among the appearances Vitter failed to disclose was a panel she led in November 2013 called "Abortion Hurts Women," in which she endorsed a brochure that made a variety of unsubstantiated claims linking birth control pills to breast cancer, cervical and liver cancers, and "violent death."
On this last point — violent death — the brochure alleges that women who take oral contraceptives prefer men with similar DNA, and that women in these partnerships have fewer sexual relations, leading to more adultery, and "understandably ... violence."
All of these claims have been debunked by leading medical and scientific organizations. But Vitter urged the women at the conference to get their doctors to distribute the brochure.
"Go to Dr. Angela's website, Breast Cancer Prevention Institute," she said. "Download [the brochure], and at your next physical, you walk into your pro-life doctor and say, 'have you thought about putting these facts or this brochure in your waiting room?'"
At the same conference, Vitter spoke admiringly about laws adopted in Texas regulating abortion that were that were then being challenged in the courts.
At the time, Texas argued that the laws were enacted to protect women's health, but Vitter appeared to understand the real purpose behind the laws. She praised Texas for "making great strides in making it very difficult to get abortions."
"And we're going to be right there," Vitter proclaimed, "because pro-life forces are there."
The Supreme Court ultimately struck down the Texas laws because the court said they interfered with a woman's constitutional right to terminate a pregnancy and, in fact, made the procedure less safe.
These and other controversial statements were omitted from Vitter's Senate questionnaire, and were instead turned up by Democrats on the committee and women's health groups.
Attorney General Sessions suggests failure to disclose could be a felony — for an Obama appointee
As Democrats note, Republicans had a zero-tolerance policy for such omissions during the Obama years. When Professor Goodwin Liu, a prolific speaker and writer, left out dozens of his often-repetitious speeches, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were so outraged that they blocked his nomination.
Indeed, then-Sen., now Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested Liu's failure to disclose could be a felony.
"Title 18, Section 1001 makes it a criminal offense to make a false statement to the government. Two years in jail. A felony," Sessions said at an April 15, 2010 hearing.
Vitter's failure to disclose, though fewer in number, was, in the eyes of her critics, more serious than Liu's. They see her omissions not only as an attempt to hide her most controversial statements, but some of those statements go to the heart of what a trial judge is supposed to do — evaluate evidence.
The American Bar Association gave Vitter's nomination its lowest qualified rating, with a minority of those reviewing her record rating her "unqualified."
That said, Vitter received a boost Monday when New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a Democrat, backed her nomination.
He wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee that he "can personally attest to her strong moral character," and "I trust that Wendy will uphold the law in a fair and honest manner and would be an asset to the Federal bench of the Eastern District of Louisiana."
And with the filibuster rule now abolished for all judicial nominees, all Vitter needs is 51 votes to win confirmation. Republicans, so far, have not bucked the president on any judicial nomination that's come to a vote.
Three nominees have withdrawn their names from consideration, including Brett Talley, who continues to supervise judicial nominations at the Justice Department. Neither Talley nor Matthew Petersen, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, had any significant trial experience, and withdrew when Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, a Republican, made clear he would not support their nominations.
Kennedy has proved a skillful questioner of judicial nominees, but he is unlikely to train his skeptical questions on Vitter, given that he succeeded David Vitter, the nominee's husband, in 2017.