WASHINGTON, DC – Chairman Chuck Grassley’s (R-IA) Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC) sent four more judicial nominees to the Senate floor and plans to pass another four at its next business meeting, advancing President Trump’s persistent march to keep his campaign promise of reshaping the federal judiciary.
Senators on Thursday voted to send three federal trial court nominees and one federal appeals court nominee to the full Senate, where they are expected to be approved. In a sign of the Democrats’ possible weakening resolve to uniformly oppose all Trump judicial picks, three of the nominees received some Democratic votes in support. The appellate nominee, Kurt Engelhardt for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, was approved 15-6.
The only one approved on a straight 11-10 party-line vote was Howard Nielson, nominated for the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah. Nielson is a well-respected former law clerk to a top appellate judge and then worked at the elite Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Democrats are opposing Nielson because of his work defending traditional marriage at the Supreme Court in 2012 and 2013, as well as his work at OLC defending presidential power to subject enemy combatants to enhanced interrogation. He is a partner at Cooper & Kirk, the powerhouse law firm headed by one of the most accomplished lawyers in the nation, Chuck Cooper, who headed OLC as its assistant attorney general under President Ronald Reagan and Attorney General Ed Meese. Cooper is also a savvy political figure in D.C. and a close ally and personal lawyer to Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Even Nielson’s critics acknowledge that he is well-qualified for a judgeship, and attempts to stop him will likely look like partisan obstruction that continues to diminish Democrats’ political currency. He is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate.
SJC held over four more nominations to be voted on at its next business meeting.
These include Michael Brennan for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. Brennan’s nomination has been slow-walked because home-state Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI)—an aggressive partisan who is vulnerable for re-election in 2018—has refused to return her “blue slip” consenting to a committee hearing.
Blue slips are a courtesy that Senate Democrats have abused during the Trump presidency, which formerly allowed a home-state senator to insist on consultations but which were never intended as a one-senator veto on a nominee with majority support. Democrats’ misuse of blue slips to derail nominees led to Grassley’s discarding of the process, and last month, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led the full Senate to confirm the first Trump nominee to be initially blocked by a blue slip, Judge David Stras to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Brennan and the other held-over nominees are expected to eventually be confirmed as well. Despite Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-NY) efforts to derail President Trump’s agenda, the president’s aggressive promise to reorient the nation’s courts continues apace.
Ken Klukowski is senior legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.