WASHINGTON – A conservative Republican lawmaker is considering whether to stop blocking a judicial nominee over concerns her appearance at a lesbian commitment ceremony betrayed her legal views on gay marriage.
Sen. Sam Brownback, a potential presidential candidate in 2008, said Michigan Court of Appeals Judge Janet T. Neff should not be disqualified automatically for having attended the ceremony. But Brownback, R-Kan., made clear it raised doubts in his mind.
"But what I want to know is what does it do to her look at the law? What does she consider the law on same-sex marriage, on civil unions, and I'd want to consider that," Brownback said Sunday.
President Bush nominated Neff, who has a liberal reputation, to be a U.S. District Court judge as part of a compromise struck with Democrats.
Neff's nomination is pending before the full Senate; Brownback has stalled it because of her attendance at the 2002 ceremony in Massachusetts.
"I'm still looking at the Neff situation, and I will in the future," Brownback said.
Neff has said she attended as a friend of one of the two women, a longtime neighbor.
Neff has declined to answer Brownback's queries on whether the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage or civil unions, saying it would be improper to address questions that might come before her as a federal judge.
Brownback called gay marriage a developing area of the law best not left to the judiciary anyway.
"To me these issues should be decided by the legislative bodies, not by the judicial bodies, and it seems to me this may indicate some view of hers on the legal issue. And that's what I'm concerned about here, is her view of the legal issue involving same-sex marriage," Brownback said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., urged taking a step back, away from "the political agenda," in considering judicial appointees.
"You know, these are important lifetime appointments. These men and women who serve on the bench, we really trust their judgment and their wisdom and giving these political litmus tests I don't think is in the best interest of justice in America," said Durbin, who will be the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
In an Oct. 12 letter to Brownback, Neff said a minister presided over the ceremony and she insisted her attendance would not affect her ability to act fairly as a federal judge.
"The ceremony, which was entirely private, took place in Massachusetts, where I had no authority to act in any official capacity and where, in any event, the ceremony had no legal effect," Neff wrote.
Brownback and Durbin appeared on "This Week" on ABC