Deadly racist violence tore through Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 as neo-Nazis chanted anti-Semitic slogans and neo-Confederates celebrated the legacy of the general who led a rebellion on behalf of Southern states that sought to maintain slavery. It was a horrific moment, made all the more horrible by Donald Trump's attempt to assign shared blame to the racists who invaded Charlottesville and to people who rejected racism.

The president went so far as to claim that "you had people that were very fine people on both sides.”

Trump’s statement shocked the nation and the world. Civil rights groups condemned the president. They were joined by responsible Republicans. “There's no moral equivalency between racists and Americans standing up to defy hate and bigotry,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Az. “The president of the United States should say so.”

Trump and his toadies still try to defend the president's indefensible language. But McCain was right.

When the debate is about racism, there must be clarity.

Our country's history of racial discrimination and division is too long and too painful for any of us to excuse those who fail to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

This is one of the many reasons why U.S. senators should have voted last week to reject one of Trump's most offensive nominees.

Wendy Vitter, the president's pick for a Louisiana federal judgeship, disqualified herself when she appeared last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a former state attorney general who once served as a volunteer counsel for the NAACP, asked a simple question: Did Vitter believe that the landmark 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education — which struck down school segregation — had been correctly decided by the U.S. Supreme Court? It was not an unreasonable request. Chief Justice John Roberts spoke in detail during his confirmation hearing about "the genius of the decision." Justice Neil Gorsuch told the committee during his confirmation hearing that Brown v. the Board of Education was “a correct application of the law of precedent."

Yet Vitter refused to answer Blumenthal's question. "I don't mean to be coy," she said, "but I think I can get into a difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions — which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with. Again, my personal, political or religious views I would set aside — that is Supreme Court precedent. It is binding. If I were honored to be confirmed, I would be bound by it and, of course, I would uphold it."

But what of the deeper question of whether the court had set the proper standard by rejecting the so-called “separate but equal” distinctions made by Jim Crow segregationists? Blumenthal pressed the point. Vitter again refused to answer.

The NAACP's response was blunt: “The Brown ruling is sacrosanct. For any judicial nominee to treat Brown with anything less than universal acceptance is deplorable and must be condemned by the Senate in the strongest terms.”

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Keith Boykin, a former general editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review who went on to serve as a Clinton White House aide, put things in perspective when he explained: “Brown versus Board of Education was a paramount decision in American legal history, decided on May 17th, 1954, by a unanimous Supreme Court. We're in 2018 now. We have a Trump judicial appointee who doesn't know whether she can say if it was correctly decided or not. The idea is preposterous, but it's consistent with Donald Trump, who can't say whether the people in Charlottesville were right or wrong on either side.”

Last week, Vitter’s nomination came before the full Senate.

While Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin cast one of 45 "no" votes, Sen. Ron Johnson joined the Republican majority that confirmed a nominee who could not say whether Brown v. Board of Education was properly decided.

It is well understood that Johnson is a rubber-stamp senator who does as he is told by Trump and Mitch McConnell. But if ever there was a time when he needed to show some backbone, this was it. Unfortunately, he failed.

As a senator from a state that has historically placed the cause of civil rights ahead of partisanship, Johnson shamed himself and Wisconsin.

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