Senate to step up judicial confirmations
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is having more success getting judges confirmed than Democrat Barack Obama did at this early stage in their presidencies, and that disparity is expected to increase this week as the GOP-led Senate pushes through more of Trump’s choices.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., set the stage for votes on four of the president’s appellate court nominees and one district court nominee starting Monday night. He declared that Democrats would be unsuccessful in stopping their confirmation.
“We’ll confirm all of them this week no matter how long that takes,” McConnell said.
The first nominee was Trevor McFadden of Virginia, whom the Senate confirmed by a vote of 84-10. Arkansas Republican Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton both voted to approve confirmation. He will serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
McFadden has served in the Trump administration as a deputy assistant attorney general.
Including McFadden, Trump has had nine federal judges confirmed so far, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch and four circuit court judges. In comparison, Obama had five judges confirmed at this stage of his presidency, including Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor and one appellate court judge.
Obama got off to a much slower start in nominating judges than Trump has. Obama had nominated one Supreme Court justice and 24 appellate and district court nominees at this stage compared to one Supreme Court justice and 57 appellate and district court nominees for Trump.
Still, conservatives have been frustrated with the pace in the Republican-controlled Senate and blamed McConnell. The Judicial Crisis Network threatened to run ads against McConnell but backed off after winning assurances from the Kentucky Republican that the pace will quicken.
Filling lifetime posts on the courts is a presidential legacy that reverberates for decades.
President Ronald Reagan secured the most judicial confirmations among the recent two-term presidents with 402. President Bill Clinton secured 387 judicial appointments, followed by George W. Bush at 340, and Obama at 334, according to statistics maintained by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
The Senate also will hold a procedural vote on moving ahead on the nomination of Notre Dame law professor Amy Coney Barrett to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.
“We are having to spend 30 hours on the cloture of a district judge,” said Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. “I have been here 21 years now, and I have never heard of that. We have to get the appointments through. That is one of our prime jobs, to provide advice and consent for the president, and it is not happening on a timely basis.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans were rushing through judges who only recently passed the Senate Judiciary Committee. He said the Senate has traditionally given members not on the committee more time to evaluate nominees and questioned the reasoning behind not doing so now.
“One can argue it’s because the Republican agenda has been such a failure in this Congress, the leader has chosen to try and accomplish through the courts what Republicans have been unable to achieve through the legislative process,” Schumer said.
Conservative groups are pushing hard for Barrett’s confirmation, and criticized Democrats for questioning whether her Catholic beliefs would influence her legal decisions. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said the challenge to Barrett was a painful reminder of a time when “anti-Catholic bigotry did distort our laws and civil order.”
California Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judicial Committee, said Barrett had no experience as a judge and worked on only one trial before becoming a professor. She rejected the notion that she was applying a religious test in Barrett’s confirmation, saying, “I think that has been exaggerated out of any reality.”
But Charles Grassley, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, disagreed. “Some of the comments and questions from my Democratic colleagues crossed the line,” Grassley said at a news conference at the Capitol on Monday afternoon.
McConnell also moved to limit debate on Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen to serve as a circuit judge, along with Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid and University of Pennsylvania law professor Stephanos Bibas. Larsen and Eid were on the short list of candidates for the Supreme Court that Trump released last year on his way to winning the GOP nomination for president.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, joined by (from left) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, discusses his panel’s plan Monday on Capitol Hill to move forward on four of the president’s appellate court nominees and one district court nominee this week.