During his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Pittsburgh attorney and judicial nominee David Porter faced intense scrutiny from Democrats. They expressed concern about Porter’s reported ties to conservative groups as well as his past criticisms of the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade.
Through nearly 40 minutes of questioning before the Senate judiciary committee, Porter declined to share his personal views on a host of topics, including health care, abortion and protections for LGBT people. Instead, he reiterated that, no matter the issue, he would follow legal precedent as a judge.
“Lawyers who aren’t judicial nominees are free to make comment,” he said. “Lawyers who are nominees are not so much at liberty to make comment.”
Porter was more direct in denying his involvement with the Pennsylvania Judicial Network, which opposed the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2009 and is affiliated with the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
His interaction with the group, he said, was limited to a brief introductory phone call in 2009. He noted that his name once appeared on a letter from the group without his permission.
If confirmed, Porter would join the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and the Virgin Islands. The nomination comes four years after progressive activists blocked Porter from being nominated to a lower federal court.
Porter has a better chance of succeeding this time, given that the GOP controls the Senate, said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.
“My sense is similar nominees to him, who’ve answered as he did, tended to receive party-line votes,” Tobias said.
Pennsylvania’s senators, Republican Pat Toomey and Democrat Bob Casey, are split on the nomination. While Toomey lauded Porter at Wednesday’s hearing for having the “qualities needed to excel as a federal judge,” Casey agrees with progressives who say Porter is too ideological for the bench.
In recent years, judicial nominations have only advanced if they have the support of both senators in the nominee’s home state. Tobias said it’s troubling that Porter’s nomination is proceeding despite Casey’s opposition.
“It has really not a whole lot to do with Mr. Porter but has to do with the institution of the Senate, has to do with the relationship between the two home-state senators and their cooperation,” Tobias said.
Tobias said Porter could be confirmed this summer.