The Never-Ending Saga of Janet Neff

Over the last several months, we have written a series of posts on Sen. Sam Brownback’s never-ending, one-man crusade against one of President Bush’s own nominees to the US District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Janet Neff, simply because she attended the commitment ceremony of a family friend who is a lesbian back in 2002.  

Over the course of this mind-boggling episode, Brownback’s demands have constantly shifted.

Initially, 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 demand “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 he was running out of options, Brownback 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.  But shortly thereafter, he backtracked and renewed his demand for a second hearing, saying he’d let the nomination move forward so long as he had a chance to question her, again, in committee.

Then, once again he backed away from his demand for another hearing, saying he just wanted a debate on the Senate floor on her nomination and a chance for an up-or-down vote.

Well, according to Congressional Quarterly, Brownback has managed to secure his long sought-after second hearing for Neff and is once again back to threatening to block her nomination if he doesn’t like her answers:

Sen. Sam Brownback has blocked one of President Bush’s judicial nominees before, and he’s ready to do it again if he doesn’t get the right answers at a Thursday confirmation hearing.

The Kansas Republican blocked the nomination of Janet T. Neff to a Michigan federal district court seat last year because Neff once attended a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony.

In December, Brownback said he would stand aside if Neff promised to recuse herself from cases involving same-sex unions. But that didn’t happen and the nomination died.

Well, Neff is back. Bush renominated her in March, and Brownback still wants some answers.

He said Tuesday he wants Neff to explain the role she played at that gay couple’s commitment ceremony and that he’s interested in her views in general on the legality of gay marriage: “Let’s hear what she has to say.”

Then, he said, he’ll decide whether to block her nomination for a second time.