Last week Mississippi’s junior Senator, Cindy Hyde-Smith, came out in opposition to President Biden’s nominee for the U.S. District Court for Northern Mississippi, District Attorney Scott Colom. She expressed concern about his presumed opposition to legislation to protect female athletes and about support he received in his first campaign for district attorney from an independent expenditure financed by George Soros. By traditions of U.S. Senate courtesy, her objection could undo the nomination so that Colom does not get a hearing – much less a vote – and the seat would remain vacant until someone else is nominated.
I hope the U.S. Senate Committee on Judiciary gives him a hearing anyway. They have overridden home state objections in the past. For example, a Republican majority overruled the objections of a Democratic Senator from Wisconsin and confirmed a Trump appointee as a judge in that state. The current Judiciary Committee could do the same on this nominee. I hope they do, especially given the flimsy rationale Hyde-Smith gave for her objection.
Let’s examine her rationale:
I referenced the female athlete issue in my last blog post because Governor Tate Reeves is so prone to discussing it as if it were one of the most pressing issues facing Mississippi. To recap, in May of 2021, the Mississippi legislature passed a law barring boys from playing girl’s sports. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/2021/03/13/mississippi-governor-signs-bill-banning-transgender-athletes-sports/4679759001/). Reeves always refers to “boys playing girl’s sports” and Hyde-Smith speaks of “protecting female athletes” because these are, apparently, better tropes. The issue is about transgender girls playing on girls teams.
There is a legal issue pending on whether trans girls can play girls sports, although no trans girls are known to be playing girls sports in Mississippi, nor were they at the time of the 2021 law. Colom is a DA and not a member of the legislature and we don’t actually know his position on this issue, although he and other prosecutors around the country did say they oppose criminalizing doctors who perform gender affirming treatment. That is a different issue than trans girls playing sports, albeit loosely related.
Neither is the issue of trans girls sports likely to come before a federal judge in Mississippi. There are no trans girls known to be playing on sports teams here and a West Virginia case may resolve the issue soon. West Virginia passed a law banning trans girls from playing on girls teams around the same time that Mississippi did. A trans girl named Becky in West Virginia has sued that state to play. The U.S. Supreme Court has now upheld a lower court and is allowing her to play until the matter of her rights is resolved. No case is yet pending in Mississippi and there seems little basis on which to pre-judge Colom’s views on such a hypothetical case were one to come before him. The U.S. Supreme Court may well resolve the matter in any case. But if members of the Judiciary Committee want to know Colom’s views on transgender rights in general – or girls sports – they could ask him at a hearing.
Then there is the matter of George Soros who did, indeed, support Scott Colom’s first election as District Attorney through an independent expenditure. Soros is an American citizen who was born to a working class Jewish family in Hungary and lived in England for a time. He made a billion dollars on a short sale at an auspicious moment. A short sale is a perfectly legal venture in which you borrow stock at a lower price thinking the price will decline and sell the borrowed stock at market price, then pay for the borrowed stock when the price goes down. It the price doesn’t go down you are in big trouble but can make a lot of money if the expectation of a reduced price is met. Soros continued to make savvy investments and made billions. He has reportedly given over two thirds of it away to charitable and progressive causes and now, at age 92, is largely retired. Meanwhile, Colom has been reelected since, winning both without opposition and without support from Soros.
So what is Hyde-Smith’s objection to Soros’ earlier support of Colom? Well, if you look at responses on Twitter, many people feel that her criticism of Soros has roots in anti-Semitism, which is prejudice against Jews. I am not willing to say that criticism of Soros alone is proof of anti-Semitism, unless it is part of a pattern of bigotry.
But it does seem unlikely that Hyde-Smith objects to all independent expenditures by people who made money in the banking and securities industries. Her own first election was aided by a significant independent expenditure (https://readsludge.com/2018/11/27/corporate-funded-outside-groups-spend-big-on-hyde-smith-after-public-hanging-comment/). Hyde-Smith had referenced being “on the front row” of “a public hanging,” a remark widely interpreted as a reference to lynching. Hyde-Smith later apologized for the remark and said her words had been “twisted.” The fracas around her remarks was serious enough, however, for the National Republican Senatorial Committee to decide to spend almost two-million dollars on an independent expenditure in her behalf, almost all of it attacking her African American opponent Mike Espy.
One of the largest contributors to Republican Party independent expenditures is hedge fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who last year alone contributed over 18 million dollars to an effort to to put Congress in Republican hands. Hyde-Smith has not been heard criticizing Griffin. (https://www.forbes.com/sites/mattdurot/article/meet-the-billionaires-funding-the-battle-for-control-of-the-house-of-representatives/?sh=4a1aa97824c9).
Hyde Smith’s objections to Soros could be to his progressive politics, implicating Colom through guilt by association, which is a weak argument to apply to a judicial appointment as it would not implicate someone under the law. Again, if the Judciary Committee thought Colom’s political views relevant to the judicial nomination, they could ask him about that. Finally, it may be that Hyde-Smith may just not like Soros. I don’t know that they have ever met but she does exhibit behavior that seems a bit ill-mannered at times. When she won re-election to the U.S. Senate, she ungraciously declared that the only thing better than beating Mike Espy was beating him twice.
So what is Cindy Hyde-Smith’s real objection to Colom, whom she acknowledges is smart and well-liked? We are left with her objecting to hypothetical views he has not expressed, and support Colom received from a significant donor, now retired, during his first election as District Attorney several years ago. I cannot definitively say that either anti-Semitism or prejudice against Colom, who is African American, were part of Hyde Smith’s calculus. Her stated rationale, however, does not hold up well to examination.
I hope Colom gets a hearing.