Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) on Thursday called out his Republican colleagues for their racist treatment of President Joe Biden’s court picks, saying their word choice and unusual hostility toward nominees of color has been “demeaning” and “offensive.”
“It’s not lost on me that nominees of color have been treated differently in our hearings,” Padilla said during a Judiciary Committee hearing. “Whether it’s insinuations of a ‘rap sheet’ or hostility about their qualifications or views, or undue scrutiny of their personal religious faith.”
The California senator made his comments as the committee was preparing to vote on advancing an African American nominee, Andre Mathis, who is Biden’s pick for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit based in Tennessee.
Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who opposes Mathis and has complained that the White House didn’t consult with her enough on his nomination to a court seat in her state, raised eyebrows last month when she said she had concerns with Mathis and referenced his “rap sheet” of old speeding tickets, a suggestion of a criminal record when there is none.
“He has a rap sheet with a laundry list of citations, including multiple failures to appear in court,” Blackburn said at the time. “In Tennessee, we expect our judges to respect the law.”
In fact, Mathis’ “rap sheet” — a term for a person’s criminal history that stems from the acronym for Record of Arrests and Prosecutions – was related to three speeding tickets he got more than 10 years ago, one of which was for going 5 miles over the speed limit. His driver’s license was temporarily suspended when he forgot to pay them and subsequently did not show up to court.
Padilla said Thursday that it was “particularly troubling” to see the way Mathis was treated by Blackburn in last month’s hearing.
“Let’s be clear: Mr. Mathis is not a career criminal or a violent felon, as the question implied. He has never been arrested or convicted of a crime,” he said, as Blackburn sat feet away from him on the dais. “The underlying issue being commented on was traffic violations dating over a decade ago. Whether it was unintentional or intentional, questions and tones like what I heard during his hearing are demeaning, offensive and just plain wrong.”
He added that Mathis “unfortunately isn’t the only nominee to receive this kind of treatment” and said his GOP colleagues need to be “cognizant of this disparity” in the way they treat nominees of color.
Some Republicans responded with anger.
“The extent he was suggesting racial bias on the part of members of this committee, I know that to be grossly inaccurate, extraordinarily unfair and also of the very sort of comment that would incite people to anger, acts of retaliation and violence,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). “I hope I misunderstood the comments of our colleague. Either way, to accuse colleagues who disagree with you of racism is a very serious thing.”
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), perhaps best known as the U.S. senator who raised his fist in solidarity with white supremacist rioters just before they stormed the Capitol building to try to overturn the 2020 presidential election, said he agreed with Lee.
“Frankly, I’m startled to hear it,” Hawley said of Padilla’s accusations of racism. “Frankly, it’s reprehensible and I think it’s wrong and I think it is highly destructive — highly destructive — of any efforts of bipartisanship and consensus building. I just have to say, I’m deeply disappointed by it.”
But Padilla wasn’t the only member of the committee who commented on the way that Biden’s court picks, most of whom have been women and people of color, have been treated differently by Republicans.
“I worry about the charges made against some nominees, which seem to be, in some cases, thinly veiled charges because they are a woman or a person of color,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the longest-serving member of the Senate and a former longtime chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
Leahy has previously called out Republicans for being particularly disrespectful to female judicial nominees and for consistently opposing nominees who are women of color.
“I’ve seen, in my years here, which is longer than anybody else’s … a disproportionate number of votes against women and people of color, especially women of color,” the Vermont senator said in a September hearing.
Even Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chairman of the committee, who mostly tries to keep the peace in hearings, told reporters last month that some of Biden’s court picks have been “more controversial than I anticipated” among Republicans. He made his comments in the context of Biden’s plan to pick a Black woman as his Supreme Court nominee.
When HuffPost asked if there is a theme to the Biden nominees who have unexpectedly become controversial, Durbin said bluntly, “Assertive women of color.”
The committee ultimately voted to send Mathis’ nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote. The vote was 12-10, with one Republican, Sen. John Kennedy (La.), voting yes with Democrats.