WASHINGTON ― Amid a national health emergency that has left millions of Americans out of a job and worrying about health insurance, Senate Republicans moved forward Wednesday with confirming a judicial nominee who has called the Affordable Care Act “illegitimate,” “perverse” and “liberal-utopia-dictated healthcare.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for Cory Wilson, 49, who is up for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.
Democrats grilled Wilson, a Mississippi state judge and former state legislator, over his record of attacking LGBTQ rights, abortion rights and voting rights.
They had a lot to work with.
In 2012, Wilson called same-sex marriage “a pander to liberal interest groups and an attempt to cast Republicans as intolerant, uncaring and even bigoted.” In 2016, as a state legislator, he voted for what has been dubbed the nation’s most extreme anti-LGBTQ law; it allows businesses to refuse service to married same-sex couples, people who have sex outside of marriage and transgender people by citing religious freedom.
He said he supported “the complete and immediate reversal of Roe v. Wade” in a 2007 Mississippi Right to Life questionnaire.
And in a 2011 op-ed, Wilson dismissed the NAACP’s concerns about a proposed Mississippi voter ID law as “poppycock.” He later ripped the Department of Justice for sending election observers to the state.
“In light of your record of making controversial statements and taking extreme positions, the question is really whether these views will seep into your decisions as a 5th Circuit judge,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), running through Wilson’s positions on all of those issues. “Common sense would say, yes indeed, these views will seep into your decision-making as a judge. And that is why you are being nominated.”
But Democrats mostly seized on Wilson’s criticism of the Affordable Care Act. He wrote in a 2014 op-ed that the law was “illegitimate” and “perverse” because it passed without GOP votes. He called it a “liberal-utopia-dictated healthcare” in a 2013 op-ed, and in still another op-ed, he said, “For the sake of the Constitution, I hope the Court strikes down the law and reinvigorates some semblance of the limited government the Founders intended.”
“You have tweeted over 30 times your contempt for the Affordable Care Act,” Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said. “In light of all the Americans who have died because of the coronavirus … do you have at least a moment of pause in your efforts to stop the extension of health insurance to so many Americans?”
Wilson said “people of good faith” could disagree about aspects of the health care law or whether it was the right policy. Durbin, visibly irritated, cut him off.
“I’m asking you, if at one moment, in light of all that we’ve been through over the last several months, you didn’t stop and say, ‘You know, I may not have liked Obama and I may not like Democrats and I may not like the way the Affordable Care Act passed, but I get it,’” said the Illinois Democrat. “‘When so many Americans feel so vulnerable at this moment ... I understand what was behind that Affordable Care Act and why many of us think it’s the most important vote we ever cast.’ Just one moment, maybe, when that happened to you?”
Wilson didn’t answer, instead saying he thinks health care is important and that he supported bills to strengthen health care as a state legislator.
“What’s really unfortunate and indefensible is your nomination in the midst of a public health crisis,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) told Wilson. “I have no confidence that if [a case challenging the Affordable Care Act] were to come before your court today, that you would vote to uphold that law.”
Asked if he still thinks the ACA was bad policy, Wilson said his previous op-eds and views on the subject “have no part in serving as a judge and I’ve not expressed that belief since becoming a judge.”
Blumenthal wasn’t convinced.
“I think what you said then was more than just ordinary opposition,” he said. “It was done with a vehemence that reflected a deep-seated belief, which you would carry out as a member of the court, that any and every opportunity to strike down this law would be taken by you as a member of a federal court.”
“What’s really unfortunate and indefensible is your nomination in the midst of a public health crisis.”
For their part, Republicans on the committee went easy on Wilson.
“What’s the difference between being a legislator and being an appellate judge?” asked Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
“When you had students in your classroom, how did you talk to them about being a fair and impartial judge?” Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) asked with a smile.
Wilson now awaits his vote out of the committee and on to the Senate floor, which is likely in the next few weeks. Despite opposition from Democrats, he is all but certain to be confirmed. Republicans rarely oppose any of President Donald Trump’s court picks, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made filling court vacancies his top priority, especially as time runs out before Trump’s first (and possibly last) term is up.
“My motto for the year is ‘leave no vacancy behind.’ That hasn’t changed,” McConnell told conservative radio show host Hugh Hewitt in April. “The pandemic will not prevent us from achieving that goal.”