Wendy Vitter, Judicial Nominee, Gets Tough Questions From Senators On Abortion At her confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Vitter was grilled by Democratic senators about her failure to disclose public statements of controversial anti-abortion views.
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Judicial Nominee Wendy Vitter Gets Tough Questions On Birth Control And Abortion

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Judicial Nominee Wendy Vitter Gets Tough Questions On Birth Control And Abortion

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Judicial Nominee Wendy Vitter Gets Tough Questions On Birth Control And Abortion

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Wendy Vitter. It's possible that some of you recognize that last name. She is the wife of former Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, who was implicated in the D.C. Madam sex scandal in 2007. Mrs. Vitter stuck by her husband when that scandal became public. Now President Trump has nominated her to a federal trial judgeship. And at her Senate confirmation hearing today, she's expected to face some difficult questions about her statements on abortion and birth control. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Wendy Vitter joined the New Orleans district attorney's office after law school, serving there for eight years including three as chief of trials. Shortly thereafter, she left the practice of law for 19 years, instead, helping to run her husband's political campaigns. In 2012, she returned to the law, becoming general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans. Vitter's confirmation problem is that she failed to disclose a number of her public speeches and panel appearances, appearances in which she made highly controversial statements. Among the appearances Vitter failed to disclose was a panel she led in 2013 at which she endorsed a brochure that made a variety of unsubstantiated claims linking birth control pills to breast cancer, cervical and liver cancers, and to, quote, "violent death." All of these claims have been debunked by leading medical and scientific organizations, including the American Cancer Society. But Vitter urged the women at the conference to get their doctors to distribute the brochure.

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WENDY VITTER: Go to Dr. Angela's website, Breast Cancer Prevention Institute. Download it, and at your next physical, you walk into your pro-life doctor and say, have you thought about putting these facts or this brochure in your waiting room? Each one of you can be the pro-life advocate to take that next step.

TOTENBERG: At the same conference, Vitter spoke admiringly about laws adopted in Texas regulating abortion, laws that were then being challenged in the courts. At the time, Texas argued that the laws were enacted to protect women's health. But Vitter appeared to understand the real purpose of the Texas laws that were later struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

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VITTER: They are making great strides in making it very difficult to get abortions in Texas, and we're going to be right there.

TOTENBERG: These and other controversial statements were omitted from Vitter's Senate questionnaire and were instead turned up by Democrats on the committee and women's health groups. As Democrats note, Republicans had a zero-tolerance policy for such admissions during the Obama years. When Professor Goodwin Liu, a prolific speaker and writer, left out dozens of his often repetitious speeches, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee were so outraged that they blocked his nomination. Indeed, then-senator now Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested Liu's omissions could be a felony.

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JEFF SESSIONS: Title 18 section 1001 makes it a criminal offense to make a false statement to the government. Two years in jail. A felon.

TOTENBERG: Vitter's omissions, though fewer in number are, in the eyes of her critics, more serious. They see them not only as an attempt to hide her most controversial statements, but some of those statements go to the heart of what a trial judge is supposed to do, evaluate evidence. The American Bar Association gave Vitter's nomination its lowest qualified rating, with a minority of those reviewing her record rating her unqualified. But with the filibuster rule now abolished for all judicial nominees, Vitter needs only 51 votes to win confirmation, and Republicans so far have not bucked the president on any judicial nomination that's come to a vote. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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