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During Her Confirmation Hearing To Be A Federal Judge, Wendy Vitter Faces Tough Questions


Judicial nominee Wendy Vitter tried to walk back several controversial statements on birth control and abortion during her confirmation hearing today. Vitter is the general counsel for the Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. She describes herself as pro-life, but she told the Senate Judiciary Committee that as a federal judge she would put aside her personal and religious views to enforce the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision on abortion rights. NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg has more.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The members of the Judiciary Committee know Vitter, and the Republicans at least greeted her warmly.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Wendy, congratulations.

TOTENBERG: She's the wife of former Senator David Vitter, who was implicated in the D.C. Madam sex scandal and who on this day accompanied his wife to her hearing. Wendy Vitter's confirmation problem is that she failed to disclose on her Senate questionnaire a number of public appearances and speeches in which she made highly controversial statements. Back in 2010, Republicans blocked an Obama nominee for a similar offense.

So today, Democrats spent a fair amount of time asking about one of Vitter's omissions - a panel discussion at which she appeared to endorse a brochure that made a variety of debunked medical claims, among them that women who take birth control pills are more likely to die a violent death. The brochure alleges that women who use oral contraceptives are attracted to men with similar DNA, that as a result they're less interested in sexual relations, leading to more adultery and, quote, "understandably" to more violence. Today, Vitter sought to distance herself from the brochure.


WENDY VITTER: It was not something I had heard before.

TOTENBERG: The nominee also noted she was only the panel moderator. Hawaii Democrat Mazie Hirono, however, was not satisfied.


MAZIE HIRONO: You did urge them to take these materials to their doctors.

VITTER: Senator, what I said was encouraging them to take - and I did say facts and then I stopped myself and said brochures, take them to the medical doctor to have a discussion with your own doctor so that your doctor could discuss with you his or her thoughts on what was in the brochures.

TOTENBERG: Here's what Vitter actually said at the panel she moderated in 2013.


VITTER: Go to Dr. Angela's website - Breast Cancer Prevention Institute - download it. 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? Each one of you can be the pro-life advocate to take that next step.


TOTENBERG: No senator followed up on the apparent conflict. Asked why she initially failed to disclose the panel and other speeches, Vitter said she had no intent to hide anything. My life, she said, is an open book.


VITTER: I am pro-life.

TOTENBERG: But she repeatedly assured the committee that as a judge, she would set aside her religious and personal views. The Supreme Court's abortion rulings are binding precedent, she observed, and if confirmed, she would be required to enforce those abortion rights decisions. It was a bit of a rough go for the nominee, but even if every Democrat were to vote against her - and that's a big if - with the filibuster now abolished for all judicial nominees, only 51 votes are needed for confirmation. And so far, no Republican senator has bucked President Trump on a judicial confirmation vote. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nina Totenberg is NPR's award-winning legal affairs correspondent. Her reports air regularly on NPR's critically acclaimed newsmagazines All Things Considered, Morning Edition, and Weekend Edition.
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