Wichita Former Kansas Attorney General Steve Six fielded abortion questions Tuesday from a U.S. Senate committee weighing his nomination to a seat on a federal appeals court.
His hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee comes two months after President Barack Obama nominated the Democrat to sit on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Six, a former state judge, began his law career nearly two decades ago as a clerk at the Denver-based court. He lost his attorney general’s seat in the wave of Republican election victories and left office in January.
Six mostly was grilled by the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, on abortion issues stemming from his tenure as attorney general and his judicial views on the issue.
Grassley asked him whether he believed the new Kansas statute further restricting abortions after the 21st week of pregnancy based on the disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain was consistent with a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said abortion restrictions cannot pose “an undue burden” on women.
“When I was attorney general I did not evaluate that issue and since I have gone into private practice, I haven’t had any similar issues like that come out and I haven’t read the Kansas statute,” Six replied. “I simply haven’t studied it, senator.”
The 10th Circuit appeals court would oversee any constitutional challenge that may be filed in federal courts in Kansas.
“He really can’t answer that because then you know if it came before the court he would have to recuse himself,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who watched the Webcast proceedings and said he thought Six “did very well” and was very articulate. “And so I think he did a nice job of deflecting that, too, and that is a perfectly legitimate way to handle it. It is a question you really can’t answer. If you do, then you can be accused of prejudging the issue.”
The committee did not make a decision Tuesday on Six’s nomination. Senators asked him to submit written answers to some questions in the following week. A vote would come during a separate hearing, likely to be scheduled sometime in the next month or so. The full Senate would then get a chance to vote on his nomination.
Six, 45, was a Douglas County District Court judge in Lawrence from 2005 until his 2008 appointment as Kansas attorney general by then-Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who is now secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services.
When Grassley asked him whether as attorney general he had ever been subject to any pressure by the governor or anyone in her administration not to pursue charges against Planned Parenthood, Six replied he never had any discussion with Sebelius about any topics or cases in his office’s criminal division.
The former attorney general also carefully skirted Republican questioning about the abortion controversies he inherited from his two immediate predecessors. Republican Phill Kline, a staunch abortion opponent, was elected attorney general in 2002 and focused his term as attorney general on investigating abortion clinics. Kline was defeated by Democrat Paul Morrison in 2006, who resigned amid a sex scandal, leading to Six’s appointment.
Grassley wanted to know why Six did not reopen the investigation into alleged discrepancies in the Planned Parenthood records.
“When I was appointed I stepped into some of those challenging issues,” Six said. “They certainly weren’t any issues I sought out, but I tried to handle it in the most professional way that I could.”
He told the committee that his assistant attorneys general who work the case make the prosecutorial decisions. He said he does not believe he should tell the prosecutors who handle the cases what they should or should not do given their ethical duties and responsibilities.
Six also said his office brought to the Kansas Supreme Court various issues on sensitive medical records Kline took with him on the day he left office. He said the Kansas Supreme Court had previously entered instructions for how to handle those records and noted Kline was before the disciplinary board in the state and had been sanctioned by the state Supreme Court over activities related to that investigation.
“So I was very sensitive to always bring it to the court and let the court make the decision,” Six said.