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Dems question judicial nominee about past partisan remarks

JACKSON, Miss. — Democratic members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday repeatedly asked a federal appeals court nominee from Mississippi about derisive comments he made in newspaper opinion pieces and on social media about former President Barack Obama and his signature health care legislation.

“Did you call the passage of the Affordable Care Act ‘perverse’ and ‘illegitimate’ and say that (you) ‘hope the court’ — you meant the Supreme Court — ‘strikes down the law?’,” Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked the nominee, Cory Wilson, during a hearing shown online.

Wilson, who serves on the state appeals court, responded: “Senator, before I ever became a judge, I wrote commentary and served in the Legislature where I took a number of…”

Hirono cut him off: “The answer is yes.”

Wilson, 49, is nominated for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas and is considered one of the most conservative appeals courts.

He said during the hearing Wednesday in Washington that as a judge, he puts aside his past criticism of Democrats and some of their policies. He also said in response to questions that he will follow the precedent of a Supreme Court ruling that upheld the Affordable Care Act, which Obama signed into law in 2010.

Wilson was a first-term Republican state representative when he was appointed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals in February 2019 by then-Gov. Phil Bryant, a Republican allied with President Donald Trump. Before that, Wilson had worked for the Mississippi secretary of state and the state treasurer.

The American Bar Association has rated Wilson as “well qualified” for the federal appeals court judgeship. But, his nomination has drawn opposition from advocates for voting rights, expanded access to health care and marriage equality, among a range of Democratic priorities that Wilson has pilloried.

Wilson has the support of Mississippi’s Republican U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith.

“Judge Wilson’s credentials, intellect and respect for the rule of law are well established,” Wicker said during the hearing Wednesday.

Opponents of Wilson’s nomination point to partisan comments he’s made, attacking Obama and many Democratic party priorities. The Houston Area Urban League and the Baton Rouge National Organization for Women are among 13 groups that issued a letter Tuesday opposing Wilson’s nomination. It criticized his record of supporting states’ laws that require voters to show identification at the polls.

“Mr. Wilson’s refusal to acknowledge the reality of this country’s history of voting rights violations and the prevalence of voter suppression is unsettling and indicates he would not have an open mind in such critical civil rights cases that often arise in the Fifth Circuit,” the letter said.

The letter said Wilson referred to the Affordable Care Act as “liberal-utopia-dictated healthcare.”

Trump previously nominated U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden of Mississippi to the 5th Circuit seat. During a hearing in July, Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri questioned Ozerden about his 2012 dismissal of a Catholic diocese lawsuit that challenged the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance plans cover contraception.

Ozerden said he was following a binding precedent by the 5th Circuit, but his nomination stalled and never came up for a confirmation vote. Trump announced Wilson’s nomination to the seat on March 30.

Trump initially nominated Wilson to become a federal district judge in southern Mississippi in 2019. The Judiciary Committee held a hearing on that nomination in January, but the nomination was still pending when Trump chose Wilson for a higher court.

Wilson earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Mississippi and his law degree from Yale University, where he worked on the Yale Law Journal. He was a law clerk to Judge Emmett Ripley Cox of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

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Follow Emily Wagster Pettus on Twitter: http://twitter.com/EWagsterPettus.

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