Anne Traum, a law professor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, was nominated by President Joe Biden in November to be the United States District Judge for the District of Nevada. Traum’s name was selected by a judicial commission in Nevada consisting of Democratic State Senators Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen. During last week’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Republican Louisiana Senator John Kennedy, asked Traum, “Do you think we should forgive criminal misbehavior in the name of social justice?”
Prof. Traum replied, “Senator, thank you for that question. I recognize that all issues of crime and all responses to crime are fundamentally policy issues. So, those are important issues, they are important for our community and our nation, but I leave those policy issues to the policymakers if confirmed as a judge I would not be a policy maker.”
That does not respond to the question, and Kennedy was not satisfied. He asked again, after prefacing his second framing by saying, “I’m not asking your opinion as a judge. I’m asking your opinion as a person, as a law professor. I’ll stipulate, with all of you, that you’re all going to be fair and unbiased.” Then he repeated, “Do you think misbehavior and illegal acts should be forgiven in the name of social justice?”
She decided to repeat her dodge, saying, “Senator, I do believe that all criminal policy is fundamentally a policy issue…” before Kennedy interrupted to ask for the third time whether, as an individual, she believes that an illegal act should be forgiven in the name of social justice.
“Senator, that is not a view that I have taken in my work,” Traum said.
That is not an answer to the question either. “That’s no?” Kennedy said. “Is your answer ‘no?’”
Traum would not say it was “no,” and instead repeated that she has not “taken that view” in her work as a law professor.
Kennedy’s fourth try: “I’m asking, professor, what you believe. I think this is really straightforward. Do you believe that an illegal act should be forgiven in the name of social justice. It’s pretty simple.”
“Senator, I believe that we have criminal laws, criminal laws that are created by policy making bodies like this one…” Traum filibustered, and Kennedy again interrupted.
“I got all that. Do you believe that a criminal act should be forgiven in the name of social justice?” Kennedy said.
This prompted the professor’s fifth dodge: “We have not only criminal laws but we have a criminal process by which people come before the court to be held accountable if they are charged with a crime. And I have enormous respect for that process.”
Kennedy’s sixth attempt followed: “I do too. Do you believe that a criminal act should be forgiven in the name of social justice?”
Traum replied by saying that each individual that appears before the court has a unique case and she “respects that process.” Those statements also do not respond to Kennedy’s question.
So Sen. Kennedy asked the question again in the exact same words, prompting the professor to respond, “I don’t think I could say, with respect to any particular case or as a generality with respect to any category of cases.”
“Do you not have an opinion?” Kennedy asked
“I don’t have a view to share on how any particular kind of case should be handled,” Traum said. That’s also obfuscation. Kennedy did not ask if she would share her views on a particular hypothetical case. His question was one regarding principles and belief.
“If confirmed you’re going to be a federal judge. And I join my friend, Sen. Durbin, in saying judicial temperament is important. But I think being unbiased is even more important,” Kennedy said. “And I find it incredible that you won’t answer my question. So I’m going to ask it again…Do you believe that we should forgive a criminal act in the name of social justice?”
That’s attempt #8 by my count. Again, Traum ducked.
“Senator, I share the view that we should be unbiased but I also share the view that our criminal justice system and our process is very individualized so what should happen in any particular case is a matter of the process and the very specific facts and that…” Traum responded before Kennedy cut her off.
“Do you believe that a criminal act should be forgiven in the name of social justice,” Kennedy asked, for the 9th time.
Traum refused to answer again, repeating her previous detour about individual cases.
“I can’t vote for you, not if you’re not going to answer the questions,” Kennedy said.
That’s not enough. No Senator should have the opportunity to vote for a judicial nominee who won’t answer a direct, straightforward, relevant and reasonable question about a personal belief that might create a bias in assessing a case. This should also apply to Supreme Court nominees, and there have been many, who similarly refuse to answer candidly about their personal beliefs about abortion, or any other topic. I regard Traum’s responses not only as evasive, but also as disrespectful, arrogant, and dishonest. They also obviously meant “yes,’ because she would not say “no.” She’s untrustworthy by definition. Since we cannot count on Senators to refuse to vote for someone who has proven she is unfit to serve as a judge, an ironclad rule is necessary. After all, no judge would permit a witness to dodge a question like that. If a judicial nominee won’t answer a clear yes or no question with “yes” or “no,” that should be the end of the process. He or she is disqualified.