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Friday, May 11, 2007

The Saga of Brownback and Neff Continues

Judge Janet Neff, a Michigan state judge nominated for a vacancy on the Western District of Michigan, had her second hearing before the Judiciary Committee yesterday. Judge Neff already had a hearing in the last Congress and was unanimously voted out of committee. Senator Brownback said in 2005: "I hope those tactics of obstruction will become the historical relics they deserve to be. . . . the President’s nominee deserves nothing less than a prompt, respectful confirmation hearing in the Judiciary Committee and a fair up-or-down vote on the Senate floor." However, when he learned that Neff had attended the lesbian commitment ceremony of a longtime neighbor and family friend, and made a concerted effort to stop her confirmation -- in all likelihood to score points with certain members of his party as part of his presidential campaign.

Senator Brownback then retreated from this position after being roundly criticized for his baseless obstructionism, but still insisted that Judge Neff have a second hearing at which he could question her about the commitment ceremony -- hence yesterday's hearing.

Only Senator Brownback – who, it turns out, chaired Judge Neff’s previous hearing – asked questions of Judge Neff, who testified at the end of the hearing. The other senators, other than Senator Whitehouse who was chairing, left the Committee, and Senator Hatch even made a point of stating before his departure that he fully supported both the nomination of Neff and the other district judge under consideration.

In response to Senator Brownback’s questions, Judge Neff described her family’s twenty-six year relationship with their next door neighbor whose commitment ceremony she had attended with her family and at which she made remarks. She then explained to Senator Brownback that she could not discuss her views on the constitutionality of denying same sex couples the right to marry because she was likely to hear cases on that issue both as a state judge and, if she were confirmed, as a federal district judge. She did point out that her eighteen years as a state court judge, and the many accolades she had received, were evidence of her ability to be impartial and to leave her personal views at the courthouse door. Let's hope that Judge Neff will be promptly confirmed and that we can close the door on this long saga of a politician shamelessly using judicial nominations to score political points.

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