A Senate Hearing for an Extremist Judicial Nominee Doesn’t Go Well

The day after Trump nominated Steven Menashi to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Rachel Maddow did an entire segment on an article he wrote in 2010 that raised questions about whether Trump had nominated a white nationalist to a lifetime appointment on the circuit court. Maddow was taken to task by conservative media, but then a week later, CNN’s Andrew Kaczynski and Em Steck dug a bit deeper into Menashi’s past.

Steven Menashi, a Stanford-trained lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, wrote dozens of editorials and blog posts in the late 1990s and early 2000s for a number of college and professional publications decrying “leftist multiculturalism” and “PC orthodoxy.” He complained about “gynocentrists,” wrote that the Human Rights Campaign “incessantly exploited the slaying of Matthew Shepard for both financial and political benefit” and argued that a Dartmouth fraternity that held a “ghetto party” wasn’t being racist.

He attacked academic multiculturalism as “thoroughly bankrupt” and, in 2002, defended then-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi amid a worldwide controversy over comments asserting the superiority of Western civilization over Islamic culture — for which Berlusconi himself ultimately apologized.

Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on Menashi’s nomination. According to Jennifer Bendery, it didn’t go well.

As senators asked him which particular issues he has provided legal advice on ― immigration policies crafted by White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller, for example ― Menashi repeatedly declined to say and cited confidentiality.

When Democratic Senator Dick Durbin asked Menashi about his participation in the administration’s decision to end deferred deportation for undocumented immigrant receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses, he refused to answer. At that point, Committee Chair Lindsey Graham intervened. “That’s not an unfair question, it’s a specific question,” he said. “Did you give legal advice on the subject matter?”

Later, another Republican senator expressed his disgust with how Menashi was handling questions.

“You’re a really smart guy but I wish you’d be more forthcoming,” Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) said later, with folded arms and reading glasses balanced on the tip of his nose. “This isn’t supposed to be a game. We’re supposed to try to understand not how you’re going to rule but how you’re going to think.”

The two senators from New York, Chuck Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand, issued a statement after the hearing.

It is clear from Steven Menashi’s long, disturbing record that he is the wrong candidate to serve on the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. His views are far outside the judicial mainstream and completely out of step with the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers. His confirmation to the federal judiciary would threaten the rights of millions of Americans, and we strongly urge our colleagues to oppose the Menashi nomination.

This week, Bendery followed up with Senator Kennedy. He said he will likely not support Menashi’s confirmation.

“I’m real doubtful,” Kennedy, who is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told HuffPost. “My thought is, look, if he’ll treat a United States senator the way he treated us, I wonder how he would treat the people.”

It is worth noting that Menashi’s racism, nationalism, sexism, and homophobia weren’t enough to stop Kennedy from supporting him. It was only when the nominee refused to answer questions during the hearing that he crossed a line.

At this point, Graham hasn’t scheduled a vote on Menashi. But he certainly doesn’t want to hear from voters. After protests erupted at the hearing and outside the offices of a few senators on the committee, Graham said, “To those trying to take our committee away from us and trying to take our judgment away from us … I think it will serve us well to stick together and fight back.” In other words, Graham is saying, when voters express their opinions to the people who are supposed to represent them, senators shouldn’t listen. Instead, they should “stick together and fight back.”

If you ever wondered how Republicans tend to view democracy—there you have it.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.