Brownback Moves the Goalposts Once Again on Neff Nomination

For months, we have been chronicling Sen. Sam Brownback’s one-man crusade against the nomination of Janet Neff because she attended a lesbian commitment ceremony in 2002.  Because of this and this alone, Brownback has been stalling her nomination to serve on the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan while constantly changing his explanations and demands.  

First he went to the Justice Department seeking a formal legal opinion while demanding that Neff answer various questions about her involvement in the ceremony and her views on marriage equality and civil unions.  When that didn’t satisfy him, he demanded that she recuse herself from any case dealing with these issues, but then backed down when he realized that his preferred solution “was so unusual as to be possibly unprecedented.” 

Brownback then demanded a second hearing for Neff so that he could grill her about these issues in person, because he failed to do so at her first hearing, which he had chaired.  But he didn’t get a second hearing because even the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee noted that “there is no precedent to give a (nominee) who has passed out of committee and being considered on the floor a second hearing.”

When it looked like Brownback was running out of options, he took to the pages of The Grand Rapids Press and changed his demands once again, stating that so long as he had an opportunity to voice his opposition on the Senate floor, he would let Neff’s nomination go forward:  

Should the president resubmit her nomination to the Senate during the 110th Congress, I will not block it. Instead, I am hopeful that leadership will agree to a debate and an up-or-down roll call vote on the nomination. If so, I will not reinstate the hold on Judge Neff.      


But speaking in Michigan this week, Brownback has signaled that he is not done obstructing Neff’s nomination and suddenly renewed his demand for a second hearing: 

Brownback said he won’t stand in the way of the nomination of Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet Neff to the federal bench, as long as he has a chance to question her before the Judiciary Committee.

Brownback said he wants to have a “legal discussion of whatever she’s willing to state about her views on the issue as it would come before her as a judge.

“I want to talk to her about any prejudices she may or may not have.”

Neff’s nomination has yet to be resubmitted by the President, though it is expected to be forthcoming.  With Democrats in control of the Judiciary Committee, it is unlikely that Brownback is going to receive the second hearing he is calling for, since even the Republican-controlled committee wouldn’t grant him one. 

Given his sudden backtracking, Brownback is presumably hoping to use the Democrats’ refusal to convene a second hearing as an excuse to continue to block Neff’s nomination. Of course, this will only work if everyone forgets that only a month ago he pledged not to block her nomination so long as he had to opportunity to “debate and [cast] an up-or-down roll call vote on the nomination” on the Senate floor.  

But to date, the only one who appears to have forgotten that is Brownback himself.