Judiciary Committee senators argue over tone of questions to candidates of color

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By Tierney Sneed, CNN

(CNN) — Concerns raised by a member of the Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee about the tone of questions directed at candidates of color prompted strong rebukes from two Republicans on the committee.

Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California on Thursday used a committee vote on Andre Mathis, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, to shed light on the questions posed to the black nominee that Padilla called it “demeaning, offensive and just plain untrue”.

“Mr. Mathis, unfortunately, is not the only candidate to receive this type of treatment,” Padilla said. [it’s] candidates of color who have been treated differently in our hearings, whether through insinuations from court records, hostility about their qualifications or opinions, or undue scrutiny of their faith personal nun.

Although Padilla did not refer to the upcoming fight against Biden’s yet to be named Supreme Court nominee, the race has already been at the forefront of those discussions, as some Republicans have criticized the Biden’s vow to appoint a black woman to replace retired Justice Stephen. Breyer.

On Thursday, Republican Senators Mike Lee and Josh Hawley objected to any allegations of racial bias in the committee’s dealings with lower court candidates who have come before it.

Lee, a Republican from Utah, said insinuations of racial bias are “the very kind of commentary that would incite people to anger, retaliatory acts and violence.”

“Frankly, it’s reprehensible and I think it’s wrong,” added Hawley, a Republican from Missouri. “I think it’s very destructive – very destructive – of any effort at bipartisanship and consensus building. And I just have to say that I’m deeply disappointed.

When the nominee appeared before the committee last month, committee member Senator Marsha Blackburn said Mathis had “a track record with a long list of citations.”

The Tennessee Republican was referring to traffic tickets, all a decade or more old, that Mathis had failed to pay or respond to in court, resulting in his license being suspended for several months.

Padilla pointed to the “rap sheet” comment on Thursday as he said he was “troubled” by the treatment Mathis had been subjected to. These types of attacks on candidates can “undermine public confidence in the judiciary” and can sometimes incite harassment against them, Padilla said, as he asked fellow committee members to be “aware of this disparity.

Lee then spoke up and said he hoped he misunderstood Padilla. But insofar as it “suggested racial bias on the part of members of this committee”, Lee said it was “grossly inaccurate” and “extraordinarily unfair”.

“Accusing colleagues who disagree with you of racism is a very serious thing,” Lee said.

“I mean, accusing the members of this committee of racism because you disagree with them on substance, I think that’s a very serious thing,” Hawley said, agreeing with Lee. “And frankly, I’m surprised to hear that.”

Other Democrats also criticized youe questioning tone addressed to Mathis and the other nominees.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont who is the longest-serving member of the Senate, said he was concerned “about the charges being leveled against some candidates which, in some cases, appear to be barely veiled, because they are a woman or a person of color.

Speaker Dick Durbin said the family of a recent candidate, whom he did not name, received threats after an unidentified senator tweeted a video of their exchange.

“I would join in Senator Padilla’s request that we be respectful and always fulfill our duties on the committee,” said Durbin, an Illinois Democrat.

Controversy over blue slips

Even before Blackburn’s ‘rap sheet’ commentary last month, the circumstances surrounding Mathis’ confirmation were tense, as he was the first nominee on Biden’s appeal to go ahead without the support of senators. of the vacancy’s home state, Blackburn and fellow Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty.

Under President Donald Trump, Senate Republicans had ended the practice of requiring home state senators to give their endorsement to circuit court nominees – via what is known as a “blue slip” – before these candidates advance.

Much of Thursday’s meeting focused on whether the Biden White House did less to consult with Republicans in Tennessee than what the Trump White House gave to Senate Democrats before offering candidates. on appeal without their support.

While some Democrats have said they are interested in working with Republicans to ensure home state senators have a say in the nominees, they have also defended the efforts of the Biden White House to work with the Tennessee delegation before appointing Mathis. Democrats have firmly asserted that they will not reinstate the practice of blue slips just because a Democrat is now in the White House.

The committee advanced Mathis by a 12-10 vote, with Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana joining the committee’s Democrats.

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