Pittsburgher David Porter testifies ideology won't be a factor as federal judge
Pittsburgh attorney David Porter testified on Capitol Hill for about 40 minutes Wednesday as his controversial judicial nomination to a federal circuit court began moving through the Senate.
The leading opponent of Porter's nomination, Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, called the nominee a conservative ideologue with no judicial experience and said the Senate has gone against tradition by considering his nomination in a Judiciary Committee hearing.
He said he opposes Porter's nomination to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals based on past writings advocating conservative views and interpretations of the law. Porter was president of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative and libertarian group focused on legal affairs.
“(Porter's) published works reveal an ideology that will serve only the wealthy and powerful as opposed to protecting the rights of all Americans,” Casey said on Twitter Wednesday.
Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, supports Porter and introduced him in the hearing.
“I enthusiastically support his nomination … During his distinguished legal career, David Porter has developed an outstanding reputation for professionalism, fairness and integrity,” Toomey said.
Porter drew national attention when he was being considered in 2014 as a nominee for the 3rd Circuit under then-President Barack Obama.
Progressive group Keystone Progress launched a successful campaign against his appointment, calling him a “right-wing activist and leader in anti-choice, anti-marriage equality, pro-gun movements in Pennsylvania.”
Members of the committee quizzed Porter during the hearing on his past legal writings and his connections to the conservative Christian Grove City College, from which he graduated.
In general, he responded to questions by saying he would refer to precedent and set aside his opinions. He said it would be inappropriate to give his opinions on specific issues during the nomination process.
“I would be constrained by the law; that would be my duty and my commitment,” he said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked him about writings describing the landmark Roe v. Wade decision on abortion as having a “shaky theoretical foundation.”
Porter said the referenced writings were summarizing broadly held positions on the decision. He said that whatever his thoughts on the decision's legal foundation, he would “fairly and faithfully apply it” if nominated.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, noted that Grove City College doesn't accept federal Title IX money in order to avoid complying with Title IX's protections for LGBTQ people. Hirono asked Porter if he thought Title IX's protections against sex discrimination include discrimination for failing to conform to gender stereotypes.
“I don't know if that's been litigated. If it hasn't, it probably will be soon, so it's probably not something I should comment on,” he replied.
Casey said Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, broke with tradition by holding a hearing for Porter after Casey refused to submit a customary document with his opinion of the nominee. Chairmen have solicited the opinions of nominees' home-state senators since 1917 using the slips, known as blue slips.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the committee's ranking member, said at the hearing that the blue-slip tradition has been honored for a century and Trump's decision to nominate Porter despite Casey's objections reflects the administration's unwillingness to work in a bipartisan fashion.
Some chairmen, including those who served during Obama's presidency and much of George W. Bush's presidency, have held hearings only if both home-state senators approved of the nominee. Chairmen have treated the slips differently over the last 100 years, but it has been relatively rare for the Senate to confirm a nominee without support from both home-state senators since at least 1956, according to the Congressional Research Service.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a Pittsburgh native, said the blue-slip process “exists to highlight the views of home-state senators” and encourage presidents to consult with both senators before making nominations. He said it wasn't intended to be “a way to make confirming president Trump's judicial nominees as difficult and time-consuming as possible.”
Casey said he has worked “to move forward mainstream nominees” even when he disagreed with their judicial philosophy, but accused President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of demanding the Senate confirm “judicial nominees who advocated a hard-right ideology.”
Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have until next Wednesday to submit written follow-up questions for Porter and he will respond in writing, committee spokesman Taylor Foy said.
The committee, made up of 11 Republicans and 10 Democrats, could hold a confirmation vote on Porter's nomination as soon as June 29, Foy said. If approved, the nomination would then go to the full Senate for confirmation.