For political pundits, the worst kind of judicial nominee is one who is bland, who’s rarely dragged into the political muck, who’s hard to attack or question. Robert Conrad, President Bush’s nominee to North Carolina’s Fourth Circuit Appeals Court, has worked hard to reinvent himself as a blank face of justice, eschewing his outspoken past. But Conrad’s history of passionate editorial writing came to light before he became a United States district judge in 2005, and the same controversial comments will likely make an atavistic appearance at his upcoming confirmation hearings.
Conrad’s critiques of liberal causes could well stir up the Democratic nest: In 1999, when Conrad was a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Western North Carolina, he went after a group of nuns who opposed the death penalty. In a letter to the editor printed in the Catholic Dossier, he referred to Sister Helen Prejean as a “church-hating nun” and said that her book was merely “liberal drivel.” In the late 1980s, while he was in private practice, Conrad attacked Planned Parenthood in an Op-Ed titled “Planned Parenthood: A Radical, Pro-Abortion Fringe Group,” Conrad claimed in the Charlotte Observer piece that “Planned Parenthood knowingly kills unborn babies, not fetuses, as a method of ‘post-conception’ contraception, and to them that’s OK.”
Recently, though, Conrad has tried to detach himself from his past words, saying in 2005: “I believe that my record as a U.S. Attorney demonstrates that I have enforced the law impartially,” and that “I have had no occasion to study or form views about Planned Parenthood in the past 15 years.”
Looking back on his years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Conrad took great pride in his successful prosecution of the first capital case after North Carolina reestablished its death penalty: he won a sentence of death. In addition, while Conrad was U.S. Attorney, he vigorously pursued immigration violations, as well as robbery and weapons cases, according to data published by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
Currently, no date has been set for Conrad’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but for a nominee who has had “no occasion to study or form views” on controversial topics, there remains a line of inquiry senate Democrats may find fruitful.