The White House this week quietly withdrew the nomination of Bea Hanson to head the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crimes, citing the “protracted nature” of the confirmation process. After waiting a year for Senate action, Hanson appeared on the face of it to become just another nominee of President Barack Obama who faltered in the face of Republican objections in an increasingly polarized Senate.
But there is some mystery to the nomination. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) never scheduled Hanson for a committee hearing, suggesting she lacked Democratic support. A Democratic staffer said the hearing was never held because Republicans were still reviewing her paperwork.
Meanwhile, an advocacy group for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community offered a different theory in October for the delay: the top Senate Judiciary Committee Republican had concerns about the sexual orientation of Hanson, who is gay.
Sharon Stapel, executive director for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, wrote in an October letter in support of Hanson that “the anti-LGBT animus of [Alabama Republican] Senator [Jeff] Sessions‘ and Judiciary chief counsel William Smith’s is well known.” Stapel said Hanson’s sexual orientation was “the only plausible explanation for this hold.” (Smith is chief counsel to the panel’s Republican minority.)
Stephen Miller, a spokesman for Sessions, blasted the suggestion made in the letter, which is no longer on the Senate Judiciary Committee website. The letter and all other documents concerning Hanson were removed from the Senate Judiciary Committee website after her withdrawal Monday, which is standard practice.
In a statement to Main Justice, Miller said, “It is a ludicrous suggestion that I expect any serious news outlet would treat as such.”
The Anti-Violence Project was unwilling Wednesday to reiterate its suggestion about Sessions. Stapel told Main Justice in an e-mail that she was unavailable for comment. Main Justice left a message for Hanson with her female spouse seeking comment, but Hanson did not immediately respond. A spokeswoman for the Judiciary majority had no comment on the Anti-Violence Project letter.
Sessions often has found himself at odds with the LGBT community.
The senator has spoken against major LGBT causes, including the legalization of same-sex marriage and a federal hate-crimes law expansion that Congress approved to bring protections to LGBT individuals. Most recently, the Republican on Saturday voted against repealing the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy to allow gay individuals to openly serve in the military. He received a 0 percent rating from the Human Rights Campaign on the gay advocacy organization’s most recent scorecard of politicians.
Smith also has come up in the debate over gay rights. The aide to Sessions wrote a blog post in 2009 connecting pedophilia to same-sex marriage. The website that had the post is no longer available.
Smith did not respond to a request for comment from Main Justice.
The senator’s staff has been sensitive to questions about his views on gay nominees. Brian Benczkowski, the then-minority staff director for the Judiciary panel, told Main Justice last year that it was “complete bullshit” to suggest Sessions had delayed action on openly gay U.S. Attorney nominee Jenny Durkan in Seattle because of her sexual orientation.
The Judiciary Committee eventually approved her nomination by unanimous consent, and the full Senate confirmed her in September 2009.
Obama nominated Hanson on Dec. 23, 2009, but the Senate Judiciary Committee never scheduled a hearing on Hanson’s nomination, which would have been a precursor to a panel vote.
White House spokesman Reid H. Cherlin told Main Justice that Hanson’s withdrawal came because of “the protracted nature of the process.”
Hanson is among five former Obama DOJ nominees who did not get a confirmation vote in the Senate.
In April, Obama withdrew the nomination of Dawn Johnsen, who was tapped to lead the Office of Legal Counsel, after she faced resistance from Republicans because of her pro-abortion rights views and aversion to the national security policies of President George W. Bush’s administration.
The president in April also officially withdrew the nomination of Stephanie Villafuerte, who was slated to be the U.S. Attorney in Colorado. Republicans claimed that Villafuerte, a campaign staffer for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter (D), asked employees of the Denver District Attorney’s office to access a restricted government database in connection with his 2006 bid for governor.
Obama then did not re-nominate Mary L. Smith to lead the Tax Division after the Senate in August returned her nomination to the White House for the second time. Republicans had expressed concerns about her lack of tax law experience.
On Wednesday, the Senate adjourned without confirming Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
Hanson was most recently the chief program officer for Safe Horizon, a non-profit crime victim assistance organization in New York. The former nominee previously served as the director of client services for the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Hanson has a female spouse, whom she married in 2008 in San Francisco.
Obama nominated her to replace acting Director Joye Frost, who has led the office since Bush appointee John W. Gillis resigned in January 2009.
The Office for Victims of Crime is a branch of the Office of Justice Programs. The crime victims office helps fund state programs that assist crime victims.
This article has been updated to reflect more prominently Hanson’s apparent lack of Democratic support.