Protesters Disrupt Trump Court Nominee Hearing

WH lawyer Steven Menashi has been subject of attack campaign

Steven Menashi / Youtube
September 11, 2019

Protesters disrupted a Senate hearing on Trump judicial nominee Steven Menashi on Wednesday.

Menashi, a former White House attorney and law professor, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee after Trump nominated him to the New York-based Second Circuit Court of Appeals. His appearance drew protests in the capitol. The American Bar Association testified to his fitness for the job, awarding Menashi a rating of "well qualified," but his qualifications have been challenged by a sustained attack campaign from liberal groups in recent weeks.

Protesters gathered outside the hearing and chanted as Menashi told the committee about the persecution his Jewish family faced in Iraq and Iran.

"A large crowd of protesters has gathered outside and is shouting 'Title Nine is on the line,' drowning out Menashi as he talked about his family's experience being persecuted as Jews in Iran and Iraq," said Courthouse News reporter Tim Ryan.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the incident highlighted the "unrestrained vitriol" Menashi has faced since he was nominated.

"Throughout Menashi's confirmation process, far-left activists have relentlessly harassed and demeaned him," McConnell's office said in an email. "Given that this nominee is just now having his confirmation hearing, you can expect the unrestrained vitriol from the left to only increase as his markup and floor debate approaches."

Critics have centered their attacks on his record with the Trump administration. Menashi, 40, serves as an associate White House counsel and special assistant to the president. In that role, he has helped shape the Trump administration's immigration policy. That work, as well as his time as acting general counsel under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, is part of what attracted protesters to Capitol Hill Wednesday.

Major media figures have targeted Menashi in recent weeks. MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow attacked Menashi for a 2010 law review article he wrote titled "Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy," accusing him of a making a "high-brow argument for racial purity." What Maddow omitted, and was subsequently criticized for, was that Menashi was writing specifically about the state of Israel, not about the United States or another multi-ethnic society.

Menashi told the committee about how his family's story—Iraqi Jews forced by religious persecution to flee their homes—inspired his love of the American legal system.

"Because of my family's experience, this country's commitment to rule of law, to equal justice to each individual regardless of background, and to a fair and impartial judiciary, has special meaning to me," Menashi said.

During the hearing, Menashi faced a standard battery of questions about his record and views. He attracted frustration from both sides of the aisle—including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), chairman of the committee—for declining to speak in any detail about his service as White House counsel or counsel in the Department of Education, citing his obligations under attorney-client privilege.

Menashi also went out of his way to say that Brown v. Board of Education was rightly decided—a now-standard practice among Trump nominees. He demurred on the constitutionality of Roe v. Wade, citing the standard practice of judicial nominees not to comment on settled law, but committed to upholding the precedent so long as it stands.

Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network and a conservative judicial expert, said there is little doubt about Menashi's merit for the position.

"His service as a clerk at both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals, as well as his current public service in the White House Counsel’s office, demonstrate his impeccable credentials to serve on the court," she said. "Despite facing the usual Democratic smears, Menashi will be confirmed and the people will have another outstanding judge on the court, who will fairly apply the law and adhere to the Constitution."

In spite of how hotly contested Menashi's nomination has been, a number of committee members skipped the hearing, including 2020 contenders Sens. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) and Amy Klobuchar (D., Minn.), as well as former presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.).

After the hearing, Severino reiterated her support for Menashi.

"Steve Menashi did an outstanding job in his hearing today, laying out his judicial philosophy and how he'll adhere to the Constitution and the rule of law," she said. "Unfortunately, on the Democrat side of the aisle we witnessed more of the same failed playbook of lies, distortions, and smears. Particularly chilling was the shameful mob trying to shout-down Menashi as he was describing his parents' flight from religious persecution in Iraq. Mr. Menashi deserves quick confirmation to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals where he will be another great judge."