The Senate confirmed 15 of President Trump’s judicial picks Thursday night after GOP leaders reached a deal with Democrats, clearing about a third of the backlog and closing up shop through Election Day to give senators a chance to campaign.
Three of the judges are for the powerful circuit courts of appeals, while the other 12 were for district court positions.
Many cleared on near-party line votes, while others were approved by voice votes. They were the first judicial confirmations since last weekend’s vote on Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh.
Some Republicans had hoped senators would stay in town to work on all 49 judicial picks who’d been ready for floor votes. But the 15 was the best deal the GOP could get, representing the amount of judges who could realistically have been confirmed if the Senate had devoted full time to confirmations over the next few weeks.
Liberal activists were incensed that Democratic leaders agreed to the votes.
“This deal was totally unnecessary and it is a bitter pill to swallow so soon after the Kavanaugh fight that so many progressive activists poured their hearts and souls into,” said Chris Kang, chief counsel for Demand Justice.
Conservative activists had been hoping for even more judges, but were enthusiastic about the 15 who did clear.
“I’d love for them to stay and grind them into the ground over the next four weeks, but truth be told, if you got 15 — that’s huge,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.
The three circuit court nominees confirmed were David Porter for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on a 50-45 vote; Ryan Douglas Nelson for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 51-44; and Richard J. Sullivan for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, 79-16.
Hours before the floor vote the Judiciary Committee approved eight more judicial nominees and readied them for the floor. That means there will be 34 judicial nominees waiting for votes when the Senate returns in November for a lame-duck session.
Two of the district judges who made it through committee Thursday were first picked by President Obama, but had their nominations expire. Mr. Trump renominated them.
Also clearing committee was Jonathan A. Kobes for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who was approved on a party-line vote.
Democrats said Mr. Kobes, who works as a lawyer for Sen. Mike Rounds, South Dakota Republican, wasn’t ready to be a judge, citing the American Bar Association’s rating him as unqualified.
But Republicans said the ABA evaluator who reviewed the nomination was biased, saying she had also rated a previous 8th Circuit pick, Judge Steven Grasz, unqualified last year.
“This particular evaluator has a long history of liberal activism. So it’s no surprise that the ABA’s two ‘not qualified’ recommendations for circuit-court nominees came for nominees she evaluated,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican and the Judiciary chairman.
Mr. Trump on Wednesday announced yet another slate of 13 nominees, though they may not see action until next year.
Among them were three picks for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a famously liberal court whose bite conservatives have hoped to blunt by adding GOP-appointed judges.
The 9th Circuit nominees were Patrick J. Bumatay, Daniel P. Collins and Kenneth Kiyul.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, objected to all three, accusing the White House or shirking its duty to consult with senators before making picks.
She said she would withhold her blue slips, in a move meant to register official objection. Blue slips are a Senatecourtesy that, at times, has given home-state lawmakers a veto over judges.
“The decision to move forward with these nominees without consultation or responding to my acceptance of the White House offer reflects President Trump’s desire to remake the court,” Ms. Feinstein said. “I expect my blue slips to be honored as I was acting in good faith.”
But Republicans have said they will treat blue slips as one factor in a nomination, not as an absolute veto over a president’s pick.