WASHINGTON, D.C. – Conservatives are applauding Sen. John Kennedy’s (R-LA) decision to support President Donald Trump’s nomination of Louisiana’s Kyle Duncan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
The past month has been nonstop success for President Trump on judges. On Tuesday, Judge Greg Katsas was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, marking the ninth confirmation of an appellate court this year for the president, and 16 judges total so far this year. All this, despite almost all Democrats voting as a block against all of these nominees in the narrow 52-48 Senate.
Kennedy initially stated publicly that he was reserving judgment on Duncan, who was designated “well qualified” to be an appeals judge by the liberal American Bar Association (ABA), the group’s highest ranking.
Nor is the ABA’s rating surprising. Duncan clerked for a Fifth Circuit judge, was a law professor in Mississippi, an assistant solicitor general for Texas, and then served as the actual solicitor general in his home state of Louisiana. He has lived and worked in all three of the states that comprise the Fifth Circuit.
Yet Kennedy initially said he was “undecided about his nomination,” noting that Duncan had spent much of his career in Washington, DC. Duncan’s supporters worked with the senator and his office, explaining Duncan’s deep ties to the Pelican State.
Duncan enjoys widespread support in his home state. Current Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry has called Duncan “the Neil Gorsuch of Louisiana,” invoking President Trump’s home-run Supreme Court pick. Louisiana’s other Republican senator, Bill Cassidy, also supported Duncan’s nomination.
The Judicial Crisis Network (JCN) launched a media campaign supporting Duncan’s nomination, and conservative leaders across the nation weighed in making the case for Louisiana’s native son to serve on the New Orleans-based appellate court.
Liberals had hoped that Kennedy would ultimately oppose Duncan. Left-wing activists in blue shirts (signaling support for Democrats’ using “blue slips” to derail judicial nominations, a practice Grassley is barring) gathered outside the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday. As Kennedy walked by to enter the hearing, one blue-shirt-wearing activist said to another, “He’s my favorite Republican!” The activist evidently believed Kennedy would vote against Duncan.
During the hearing, Duncan’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee was pitch-perfect. He was modest, humble, and answered all of the questions asked of him with perfect recall of the law. His answers also demonstrated great respect for Kennedy.
“The Fifth Circuit is home for me,” said Duncan, noting that he not only served as Louisiana solicitor general, but has worked in the other two states covered by that court. He emphasized that a judge is “to focus on the law. Not on politics, and not on policy preferences.”
Democrats were universally hostile to Duncan. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) went after Duncan on the court briefs he filed supporting voter-ID laws and abortion laws, such as a Texas statute that required abortion doctors to be able to admit patients at a nearby hospital and for abortion centers to meet the sanitation standards of other medical-care facilities.
With a calm and soft-spoken voice, Duncan explained to the Democratic senators regarding those cases, “I have spent a prime part of my legal career and my reputation defending the laws that the people of Louisiana passed.”
He said that he believes judges should do all they can to be “peacemakers” by showing “great respect” to the opposing parties in each case, to facilitate parties’ accepting the decision of the courts.
Duncan is a devout Christian, who is well known by allies and opponents alike for conducting himself in a manner consistent with his faith. This demeanor was on clear display during the hearing.
Kennedy was impressed by how Duncan handled himself under fire, and was reassured by what conservative leaders told him. On Thursday, the senator announced, “I plan to vote in favor of him and look forward to welcoming him home to Louisiana.”
“After hearing his testimony and watching him gracefully handle the scrutiny of the public hearing, I am confident that Kyle Duncan will be a welcome addition to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit,” Kennedy added.
“Thank you @SenJohnKennedy for supporting Kyle Duncan for the 5th Circuit,” tweeted JCN Chief Counsel Carrie Severino. “He will serve with distinction and make Louisiana proud.”
“To all those who called Sen. Kennedy—history shows our Republic only works well when we the people engage—thank you!” tweeted Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, who is also a major political force in Louisiana.
“Kudos to @JohnKennedyLA for listening to conservatives and supporting Kyle Duncan for the federal bench,” agreed national conservative leader Ken Blackwell in a tweet. “He’ll be an outstanding judge and help make our courts great again @realDonaldTrump #MAGA.”
Conservative superstars like former Attorney General Ed Meese—the godfather of constitutional conservatism and the original architect of appointing originalists to the federal bench under President Ronald Reagan—retweeted these tweets, showing the national focus on this important judicial nomination.
Kennedy’s support for Duncan was also wise politically. Rumors are that he is planning to run for the Republican nomination for Louisiana governor in 2019, where he will need full conservative support.
Judicial picks were the #1 issue for 21 percent of voters in the 2016 election, and President Trump’s conservative nominees are extremely popular among Louisiana Republicans.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.