Hassan, Shaheen Stand By Judicial Nominee Despite Criticism Over Role in Sex Assault Case
Democratic U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan continue to support the nomination of Michael A. Delaney to serve on the federal bench. This despite a brutal Senate hearing focused on his demand that an underage sexual assault victim be stripped of her anonymity in a case against St. Paul’s School.
Delaney, nominated by President Joe Biden to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, was introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee by the two New Hampshire Democrats. In a statement praising his nomination last month the senators wrote, “Michael Delaney is exceedingly qualified to serve as a judge…We believe he is well suited for this role and would serve honorably – we urge the Senate to confirm him swiftly.”
The Republicans on the committee had a different view.
“I’m astounded you’ve been nominated,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) “People who put sexual assault victims through this kind of torture shouldn’t sit on the bench.”
At issue is Delaney’s work on behalf of the elite Concord prep school in the alleged sexual assault case brought by Chessy Prout. St. Paul School student Owen Labrie was convicted of assaulting her during the school’s annual “Senior Salute,” a school ritual in which senior boys solicit sex from freshman girls. Labrie denied the rape charge but admitted in court he bragged to friends that he had sex with the then-15-year-old Prout.
The elite Episcopalian boarding school, which counts former Sec. of State John Kerry among its graduates, has been rocked with a series of sexual assault allegations in recent years.
Chessy’s parents Alex and Susan Prout filed a civil lawsuit after Labrie’s conviction on statutory rape and other charges, arguing the school failed to “meet its most basic obligation to protect the children entrusted to its care.” They also claimed school administrators knew about the “Senior Salute” tradition. Delaney represented the school in the civil suit which St. Paul’s settled for an undisclosed amount in 2018.
The family claimed Delaney used a request that the court out the victim by name as a threat to intimidate her from participating in the lawsuit. During his hearing, Delaney denied ever asking the court to take that step. However, when confronted by Sen. Ted Cruz acknowledged he did ask the court to strip Chessy of her anonymity, but only if the case went all the way to trial.
“This hearing isn’t going very well for you,” Cruz told the nominee. “There’s a reason why virtually every Democrat has skipped this hearing. They’re embarrassed about this nomination.” Only two of the 11 Democrats on the Judiciary Committee attended.
Several Republican senators read from a letter sent to the committee by Chessy Prout.
“Michael Delaney is not ethically qualified to sit on the bench,” Prout wrote. “A lawyer who practices victim intimidation is doing nothing for the greater good of the community; he stands in the way of justice and furthermore keeps his community in a toxic cycle of harm and silence.”
She isn’t alone in opposing Delaney’s nomination. Monika Johnson Hostler and Terri Poore with the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence said Delaney’s efforts on behalf of St. Paul’s School promoted the culture of silence on the elite campus by attempting to silence victims.
“When Mr. Delaney represented St. Paul’s School in a lawsuit brought by a minor survivor, he made a proactive motion to make the minor survivor’s name public. We find this deeply problematic both in terms of the impact on the particular survivor as well as the message it sends to survivors in general. We are trying to create a culture where survivors feel encouraged to seek healing and justice. This type of motion does the opposite,” Johnson Hostler and Poore wrote to the Committee.
The hearing had no impact on the New Hampshire congressional delegation, which continued to support Delaney.
Delaney, former legal counsel to Democratic Gov. John Lynch and a former New Hampshire attorney general, is currently director and Chair of the Litigation Department of McLane Middleton, one of the state’s premier law firms. He is also a regular contributor to New Hampshire Democratic politicians.
While neither Shaheen nor Hassan sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, they have been outspoken about the past behavior of previous federal court nominees — when they were Republicans. Hassan gave a scathing speech on the floor of the Senate opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court.
“Any individual nominated to the court must be subject to scrutiny on the totality of their record, their temperament, and their past actions,” Hassan said in 2018. “Yet – throughout the process of this nomination, my colleagues in the majority have made clear that they will stop at nothing to get Judge Kavanaugh on the court. No matter his record. No matter his temperament. No matter his character.”
Shaheen, when voting against Kavanaugh’s nomination, said all victims of sexual assault deserve better treatment.
“These wounds are real. The wounds are raw. And it is incumbent on all of us in this body, regardless of where you stand on Brett Kavanaugh; it’s incumbent on all of us to not deepen those scars by diminishing the pain of these women as political theatre. This is not political theater, and it should not be viewed through a partisan lens,” Shaheen said.
Reps. Annie Kuster and Chris Pappas are also a “no comment” on Delaney’s nomination.
The allegations against Kavanaugh — including the claim he ran a secret “gang rape” club while in high school — have proven to be unfounded.
GOP operative Chuck McGee said the apparent lack of Democratic opposition to Delaney’s nomination exposes the hypocrisy in the party. Democrats are only willing to stand with women and sexual assault survivors when it’s politically convenient, he said.
“Are (Shaheen and Hassan) going to stand on party lines or do the right thing and stand with the voices of the survivors,” McGee said.
McGee, the father of three daughters, said New Hampshire voters have a right to know what Hassan and Shaheen are thinking when it comes to Delaney’s nomination and if they will take a stand with survivors or not.
“Let’s really make it count when we say we’re going to support victims of sex assault, not just when it is convenient,” McGee said.