Kennedy grills lesbian judicial nominee: ‘are you still a Marxist?’

Judge Melissa R. DuBose (Screen capture: Roger Williams University School of Law/YouTube)

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) on Feb. 8 grilled Judge Melissa R. DuBose, President Joe Biden’s nominee for the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, asking during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing whether she was “still a Marxist.”

If confirmed, DuBose would be the first out judge as well as the first person of color to serve on the bench. Also, if attorney Nicole Berner is confirmed, pursuant to her nomination to serve on the 4th U.S. Court of Appeals, the Biden-Harris administration will have appointed as many openly LGBTQ+ jurists with lifetime tenure as former President Barack Obama did over the course of two terms in office.

During an interview 24 years ago, DuBose recounted that shortly after graduating from college, she had worked in a coffee shop that was patronized by students from a progressive school who had her “in a Marxist phase.”

“I am not, nor have ever been, a Marxist,” she told Kennedy.

DuBose explained that she had read Marx — along with Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau and works about Eastern religions. “As a political science major and as a theorist,” she said, “and as someone who was considering teaching a course in political theory, I had immersed myself” in these works.

Kennedy persisted: “You didn’t say ‘I’m in my Hobbesian phase.’ You didn’t say ‘I’m in my Rousseau phase.’ You said, ‘I was in my Marxist phase.’”

Reporting on the exchange, The New Republic’s Ellie Quinlan Houghtaling wrote, “Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy resurrected the Red Scare on Thursday, reminding everyone that McCarthyism never really died — just fell into a bit of a coma.”

Talking to reporters after the hearing, the committee’s Democratic Chair U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (Ill.) said this line of questioning has become rote for his Republican colleagues. “If someone said something in college, or even high school, that mentioned Marx in any context — or even alluded to Marxism — they are bound to be questioned by this committee,” he said.

After Judge William E. Smith announced his retirement from the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrats from Rhode Island, recommended that the White House nominate DuBose to fill the vacancy.

The judge currently serves on the state District Court, a role to which she was appointed by former Rhode Island Gov. and current U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. She started her career as a teacher and began her legal career as a special assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Office before serving as in-house counsel for Schneider Electric.

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