A pro-life lawyer and former clerk to Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh defended her ability to set aside her personal beliefs and prior advocacy work during her confirmation hearing Wednesday, promising to be a fair and impartial federal district court judge.
Sarah E. Pitlyk, President Trump’s nominee to the Eastern District of Missouri, was peppered with questions about her Catholic faith and her defense of pro-life activists such as David Daleiden, founder of the Center for Medical Progress, who published videos in 2015 of Planned Parenthood officials appearing to negotiate the sale of aborted fetal body parts.
“I stand in a long line of other people who have sat at this table who have had history in advocacy, or in an issue-related advocacy, or in politics and who have become very distinguished jurists,” Ms. Pitlyk told the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Democrats on the committee questioned whether Ms. Pitlyk would apply the 1973 Supreme Court precedent, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide, given her religious views and record as a lawyer.
“You’ve been more than just an advocate for the anti-choice agenda. You filed a brief arguing that life begins at conception. You’ve defended Iowa’s abortion ban. You worked to defund Planned Parenthood,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat.
The nominee graduated from Yale Law School in 2008 and currently works on constitutional and civil rights issues for the Thomas More Society, a conservative pro-life law firm.
Despite Ms. Pitlyk’s clerkship for Justice Kavanaugh when he sat on the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia and her work at several law firms prior to joining the Thomas More Society, the American Bar Association rated Ms. Pitlyk “not qualified,” saying she doesn’t have the requisite trial or litigation experience needed to sit on the federal bench.
“As we go out to hire people to represent us to engage them to represent us, the first thing we look for is experience. You’re asking for a lifetime appointment as a trial court judge. There are many things I think you would be excellent at, your background says that. This is not one of them,” Sen. Richard Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told the nominee.
But Republican members on the committee said the ABA rating was biased, with Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, saying the group has been a “partisan mouthpiece” for Democrats when it comes to rating the president’s judicial nominees.
Republican lawmakers have continuously questioned the ABA’s scoring of Trump-appointed judicial nominees after a circuit court pick in 2017 said he was quizzed about his opinion on abortion during the organization’s evaluation process.
Sen. Josh Hawley, Missouri Republican, said the “not qualified” rating for Ms. Pitlyk reflects the organization’s animus toward her judicial record defending pro-life causes.
“I’m troubled for what they have done,” he told the nominee.
The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary told the lawmakers that Ms. Pitlyk’s experience has a substantial gap, lacking in trial experience.
“Ms. Pitlyk has never tried a case as lead or co-counsel, whether civil or criminal. She has never examined a witness,” the ABA said in a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Liberal advocacy groups, meanwhile, have opposed Ms. Pitlyk, saying she satisfies the president’s litmus test he detailed during the 2016 campaign to appoint pro-life judges.
“Women who walk into her courtroom cannot have confidence that Pitlyk will fairly and correctly apply critical Supreme Court precedents and enforce essential constitutional rights,” Alliance for Justice noted on the group’s website.
The Judiciary Committee on Wednesday also considered two other district court nominees and two federal appeals court picks, one for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the other for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.