“When you’re 18 or 19, you think you know everything, even though you really don’t,” Lee told the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing. “When you’re young, you think being snarky is being witty. As you get older, I think you realize it frankly comes off as insensitive or tone-deaf. I’ve learned that.”
The comments came after Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked Lee about a 1994 article he wrote while at Cornell University that said: “9 out of 10 people with AIDS are gay or drug users.”
Lee responded that he regrets writing the article and “absolutely would not write that today.”
The judicial nominee also addressed questions on his college writings about sexual assault, including from Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who said earlier this year that she was raped in college. In his writings, Lee defended a college professor accused of harassing several women, alleging that two of the accusers only spoke out after taking a course on human sexuality. Lee also questioned why one of the accusers was still working for the professor.
“If a lecherous professor grabs a student’s breast, the last thing she would do is continue to accompany him on another trip … just so she can hold on to a part-time job,” Lee wrote at the time, according to Politico.
Lee said he was wrong to defend the accused professor, adding that he “didn’t understand” the power dynamics of the workplace. He also said that while he admired the professor, “we learn that even people we trust and admire can commit these awful things.”
Trump nominated Lee in January to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which has jurisdiction over districts in California. Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris (D), both representing California, previously asked for Lee’s hearing to be canceled after the lawmakers discovered dozens of articles he wrote but did not provide to the committee as requested.
Lee is the second Trump judicial pick to back off from controversial college writings. Neomi Rao, who was confirmed Wednesday as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s replacement in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, owned up to her college writings that blamed women for their own date rape. She wrote to the committee after her hearing earlier this year explaining her current views.
Feinstein and Harris also opposed 9th Circuit pick Daniel Collins, whom committee Republicans hope to advance along with Lee. With a Republican majority in the Senate, lawmakers have recently confirmed several Trump judicial picks, including Chad Readler, Allison Rushing and Eric Murphy.