In January, President Trump renewed the nominations of more than 50 people to serve as federal district and appellate judges. (These individuals had been previously nominated, but there nominations were not acted up before the end of the year, and had to be re-nominated for a new Congress.) Yesterday, 44 of the nominees passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, and will advance to the full Senate for a vote.
Several of the nominees passed on a 12-10 party-line vote. Others (primarily district court nominees) received little opposition from Senate Democrats. Courthouse News Service has a good roundup here.
I will leave commentary on Senator Cory Booker’s increasingly absurd committee histrionics for another day.
That’s the only reasonable interpretation of her stunning announcement that she will preemptively oppose any federal appellate court nominee put forth by President Trump. This is naked politics in its worst form: in an effort to score points with her political base and show off her willingness to resist the President, she is ready to deprive an entire branch of government the basic resources it needs to operate.
One might conclude that it’s all sound and fury, given that the Republicans control the Senate, and Harris’s Judiciary Committee vote will rarely be dispositive. But what an ugly precedent it sets. Should the junior senator from California succeed in her presidential aspirations, she will have set the stage for others to reject her own nominees sight unseen.
And of course, the judiciary is the body that truly suffers from this silly posturing. There are currently twelve vacancies on the federal circuit courts of appeal, half of which are on Harris’s home circuit, the Ninth Circuit. Those vacancies put pressure on the remaining judges to process heavy dockets with inadequate resources, leading to worse outcomes for criminal defendants, civil litigants, and the entire court system.
Senator Mitch McConnell was rightly criticized for failing to schedule a vote on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court in 2016. That was ugly power politics, and this is no different. Democrats should reject unequivocally Senator Harris’s absurd and counterproductive policy.
My latest post at the New England Faculty Blog explains why the efforts of Senate Democrats to grill judicial nominees on their religious beliefs is both wrong as a matter of course, and a strategic blunder that the President is ready to exploit.
The Hill reports: Feeling heat from the left, Dems reject judges deal.
A Senate Democratic aide said Wednesday that [Chuck] Schumer would not agree to approve the final slate of judicial nominees as the Senate prepares to wrap up its work for the year.
Progressives skewered Schumer for agreeing to two previous deals this year, one in August and the other in October, when he signed off on a group of court picks in exchange for letting vulnerable incumbents head back to their home states to campaign before the November midterm election.
Current number of vacancies in the federal courts: 143.
Judy Munro-Leighton, who alleged in an October 3 email to the Senate Judiciary Committee that she had been raped by Brett Kavanaugh, has now admitted that she fabricated the story as a “tactic” to stop his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In her email, Munro-Leighton identified herself as the “Jane Doe” who had sent an anonymous letter to Senator Kamala Harris in September, alleging that Kavanaugh and a friend had raped her “several times each” in a car. No time frame or additional details were provided. After receiving the email, Judiciary Committee staffers tried in vain to reach Munro-Leighton for nearly a month. When they finally were able to connect with her in early November, she admitted that she had not written the original “Jane Doe” letter and that her email was a way “to grab attention.”
This is appalling. False accusations undermine the very fabric of the justice system, and false accusations against a judge threaten the legitimacy of the courts. They also represent an assault on real accusations, hurting the ability of real victims to tell their stories and seek some measure of justice.
Senator Charles Grassley has referred Munro-Leighton to the FBI for further investigation for the federal violations of making materially false statements and obstruction.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley indicated today his party’s desire to confirm 41 additional nominees to the federal bench by the end of the year. That number would include a replacement for Judge Brett Kavanaugh on the D.C. Circuit.
The bad blood between the Democrats and Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, and more generally in the Senate, will make this a more difficult project. I can only hope that the Senators look beyond their partisan political aims and recognize the importance to the public of having a fully staffed judiciary. This is especially true for the 39 district court nominees, many of whom have been nominated to fill long-vacant seats on the bench.
I won’t rehash the latest eleventh-hour allegations against Judge Brett Kavanaugh. I’ll just note as a placeholder that the Senate Judiciary Committee will try (again!) to hold a confirmation vote this coming Thursday, September 20.