Senate panel advances Mississippi appeals court nominee

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Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee business meeting to consider authorization for subpoenas relating to the Crossfire Hurricane investigation, and other matters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, June 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, Pool)

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a federal appeals court nominee from Mississippi, despite Democratic objections over derisive comments he made about former President Barack Obama and his signature health care legislation.

The GOP-led panel endorsed Mississippi Appeals Court Judge Cory Wilson on a 12-10, party-line vote. The nomination now goes to the full Senate.

Wilson, a former Republican state legislator who has been on the state appeals court for 16 months, was nominated by President Donald Trump for a seat on the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, is considered one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation.

Before becoming a judge last year, Wilson frequently criticized Obama and other Democrats and called passage of the Affordable Care Act “perverse” and "illegitimate.'' Wilson also wrote that he hopes the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the law, which Obama signed in 2010.

Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said Wilson lacks judicial temperament. “He has repeatedly demonstrated he's a right-wing politician” even after becoming a judge in early 2019, she said.

Wilson, 49, said during his confirmation hearing last month that he expressed opinions about Obama, Hillary Clinton and other Democrats when he was a GOP lawmaker and adviser to top state officials. As a judge, he puts aside his past criticism of Democrats and some of their policies, he said. He also pledged to follow the precedent of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the health care law.

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said Wilson has demonstrated hostility to voting rights in Mississippi. In 2011, he dismissed concerns from the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP that a voter ID law would suppress the vote as “poppycock, unless you count the dead vote.'' In 2013, he wrote that then-Attorney General Eric Holder had "whined" that voter ID laws were part of an illegitimate orchestrated effort by Republicans to suppress poor and minority voting.

Harris called Wilson's record “extremely problematic at this moment in time, especially when just this week we saw voter suppression in the state of Georgia," including voting machine breakdowns, shortages of provisional ballots and "hours-long lines in primarily black and brown communities.''

Harris, one of three black senators, said it would be "a particular affront to the people of Mississippi, a population that has 38% African Americans, to have Judge Wilson preside over voting rights cases in that state.''

Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., bristled at the criticism by Democrats.

“Who do you think we’re going to pick? We’re going to pick people that think like us that will be good judges,'' Graham said at Wilson's hearing last month. "And when you get in charge, if you ever do, you’re going to pick people from your world,” Graham told Democrats.

Mississippi's two Republican senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, praised Wilson, saying his credentials, intelligence and respect for the rule of law are without question.