WASHINGTON—Even the toughest critics of the Senate have something to celebrate this week, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led his caucus to confirm two of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, with three more coming this week.
Last week McConnell made bold promises that he had heard the complaints of conservatives who sharply criticized the Senate’s glacial pace of confirming President Trump’s nominees. Although that criticism pertained both to judicial nominees and the top-level executive branch positions that require Senate confirmation, the conservative movement is putting most of its emphasis on demanding judicial confirmations.
The Senate confirmed Amy Coney Barrett on Tuesday to a lifetime appointment as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit by a vote of 55-43. This came on the heels of the Senate’s Monday confirmation of Trevor McFadden as a trial judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Barrett is a professor at Notre Dame Law School in Indiana. A former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, Barrett is known as an advocate of interpreting the Constitution—and all written laws—consistently with the original public meaning of its text.
“Congratulations to Amy Coney Barrett on being confirmed,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director at the Judicial Crisis Network. “Amy Coney Barrett is one of President Trump’s many well-qualified, impressive, experienced judicial nominees who will apply the rule of law fairly.”
She is also a devout Catholic, who was attacked by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for how devoted the professor is to her faith, prompting a scathing backlash from across the political spectrum. The Religious Test Clause of the Constitution forbids the U.S. government from ever considering a person’s religious faith when determining if that person is qualified for any federal office.
“Amy Coney Barrett will make an excellent judge and we welcome her confirmation despite unprecedented and unconstitutional attacks on her faith,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow for The Catholic Association. “Catholics were alarmed by the anti-Catholic bigotry on display from Democrats during her hearings, but her confirmation is a testament to the enduring constitutional principle that there can be no religious test for office.”
Religious-liberty advocates from multiple faiths rallied to Barrett’s support, not just Catholics. Evangelical leaders were especially outspoken in Barrett’s defense.
It is not yet clear whether the surprisingly narrow 55-43 vote confirming Barrett was driven by this anti-Christian hostility. No Democratic senators raised any substantive objections to Barrett’s qualifications to be an appellate judge. A nominee with her credentials and lack of controversy would typically be confirmed by a unanimous vote under historical standards.
The Seventh Circuit sits in Chicago, and has jurisdiction over the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. There is one more vacancy to be filled on that court, and President Trump’s nomination of Michael Brennan for that seat is still pending in the Senate.
The Senate on Tuesday also invoked cloture on the nomination of Joan Larsen to be a judge on the neighboring Sixth Circuit. The vote was 60-38, which is likewise surprising because there are no substantive objections to Larsen’s qualifications, either. She currently serves as a justice on the Michigan Supreme Court.
Action on two more nominees to the federal appeals courts, Allison Eid for the Tenth Circuit and Stephanos Bibas for the Third Circuit—are also planned for the next several days.
Conservative leaders are taking a “trust, but verify,” attitude toward McConnell’s promise to move judges. This past week has been a very good week for that trust in this regard, as conservatives look to see how far it can go.
“I look forward to more confirmations from the Senate soon,” Severino said of the other three nominees, as well as those in the pipeline for action in the coming weeks.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski