US

Coons: I contributed to the partisan confirmation hearings

During an interview that aired on Friday’s edition of PBS’ “Firing Line,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE) said he was part of the problem with Supreme Court confirmations becoming more partisan, the news that he saw “strongly suggest” Judge Clarence Thomas should recuse himself from Jan. 6-related cases, and that Thomas’ case is different from other marital disputes because it “goes to the heart of democracy.”

Coons said, “Can you vote for a district court or circuit court nominee, let alone a Supreme Court nominee, who is highly qualified, who has a clean record, who has served well , but who leans in the opposite direction of your party? … We’ve gotten to the point where it’s difficult. If you do that, there are political consequences. Both sides, both sides, and there [are] well-funded and well-resourced groups ready to make sure that if you make such a decision, you will hear about it. And that’s part of the partisan acceleration of the judicial confirmation process.

He also said that Justice Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation “was when I first voted against a Supreme Court nominee, not based on his – eminently qualified, great temper, good writer, solid service record . But I didn’t agree with his philosophy. And Senator Graham and I had a very heated exchange at that point where he told me, I voted for Kagan. I voted for Sotomayor. If you’re not ready to vote for Gorsuch, what does that mean? And so, I recognize that I’m part of this problem, and I recognize that, with Senator Graham saying, in this process, he votes against her, he was the last member of the committee who had a history of voting for qualification, neither for nor against philosophy.

Regarding Thomas, Coons said: “A cursory reading of what I have seen in the press strongly suggests that this particular issue and episode has crossed the threshold of a reasonable person who would think the judge should recuse himself, given strength, stridency, the relevance of the now public messages between his wife and the leaders of the previous administration.

Host Margaret Hoover referred to Judge Ginsburg’s ruling on cases where her husband had a financial interest and Judge Kagan’s ruling on Obamacare after he backed him as Solicitor General. Coons replied, “There is a wide range of cases that we can and should discuss about judicial ethics and the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary generally. The particular case you are telling me about touches so much on the heart of democracy. As a general rule, you do not attribute to a judge the political opinions, the freedom of expression of his spouse, or even his commercial activity. But this one is very uncomfortable because of its proximity to the very center of ordered freedom.

Follow Ian Hanchett on Twitter @IanHanchett

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