WASHINGTON ― One of President Donald Trump’s nominees to a lifetime seat on a federal court, Michael Brennan, can’t say if there is racial bias in the American criminal justice system.
During his Wednesday confirmation hearing, Brennan, a white lawyer from Wisconsin who is nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, repeatedly dodged the question posed by Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).
“Do you think implicit racial bias exists in our criminal justice system?” asked Booker, one of three black members to ever serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
“I would indicate only that I would do my very best as a judge to ensure that no biases came in,” said Brennan, who was trial judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court for nine years.
“You’re aware that African-Americans are stopped more than whites for drug searches in this country?” Booker continued. “That there’s no difference between blacks and whites for using drugs or dealing drugs, but [blacks] are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for it? You’re aware of the data, I imagine, that says African-Americans are more likely to get mandatory minimum sentences for the same crime. You’re probably aware of the data that African-Americans are more likely to serve more time for similar crimes.”
The senator asked again, “Do you think implicit racial bias exists in the criminal justice system as you know it?”
“One of the things I can say, senator, is that I want to put my pro bono efforts into …,” Brennan began.
“I’m not asking about you specifically, sir,” Booker interrupted. “I’m asking do you think racial bias exists in the criminal justice system.”
Federally collected data is clear on the racial divide in the justice system. Black drivers, for example, are more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. White drivers involved in traffic stops are searched at lower rates than black drivers. Black people spend more time behind bars than white people for the same crimes, and black people are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people ― even though the two groups use cannabis at roughly the same rates.
Booker kept asking the question of Brennan, who then said he couldn’t take a position because of the “canons of ethics” for judges and tried to pivot to talking about his volunteer work. He suggested he might give an opinion if he could have a look at the data that Booker was referencing. The senator was incredulous.
“You haven’t? You’re a judge in the United States of America and you have not looked at issues of race in sentencing and the criminal justice system?” Booker asked. “I find this astonishing.”
Watch their exchange above.