Kevin Daley on November 1, 2017
The Senate is processing President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees at an impressive clip.
This week is perhaps the high-water mark of the GOP’s judicial confirmation operation, an aggressive effort to pack the federal bench with young conservative jurists. Four confirmations to federal appeals courts are expected by Friday, while the Senate Judiciary Committee convenes to clear or vet yet more appointees.
The confirmation bonanza resulted from a concerted push from conservative groups, including The Heritage Foundation and the Judicial Confirmation Network, to quicken the pace of confirmations, fearing Senate Republicans would squander the opportunity to confirm federal judges as the GOP struggles to navigate the mire of its own internal divisions.
Among this week’s confirmations was Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen, confirmed Wednesday afternoon to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court. Like many other Trump nominees, Larsen is a well-credentialed, Federalist Society-aligned jurist who is likely to serve for decades on the federal bench.
Larsen’s confirmation was the second of the week. Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett, who clerked for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, was confirmed Tuesday to the 7th Circuit, the Chicago-based federal appeals court. Few Democrats backed her confirmation, which devolved into an ugly fight over the Constitution’s ban on religious tests, after members of the Judiciary Committee aggressively questioned Barrett about how her Catholicism would bear on the discharge of her judicial duties. Barrett has produced scholarship concerning the ethical obligations of Catholic practitioners, and spoken about practicing her faith in a professional context in related public statements.
Two more confirmations are expected to follow by week’s end. The Senate closed debate Wednesday on Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid’s nomination to the 10th Circuit, the Denver-based appeals court. A vote on her nomination is expected Thursday, while University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Stephanos Bibas’s nomination to the 3rd Circuit, the Philadelphia-based appeals court, will likely come late Friday.
Larsen and Eid appeared on President Trump’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees during the 2016 presidential election. Court-watchers regard both as serious contenders for the next Supreme Court appointment by a Republican president.
Circuit court confirmations are a meaningful accomplishment for a Republican Congress that has struggled to implement its policy priorities. Federal circuit courts have supervisory authority over all federal trial courts, and issue the final word on 99 percent of all federal cases. A raft of confirmations to these courts will affect an ideological and interpretative realignment across the federal bench of the sort conservative jurists have long aspired to.
The pace of these confirmations is also quite rapid as compared to recent years. Just two appeals court nominees were confirmed during the final two years of former President Barack Obama’s administration — six Trump nominees have been confirmations in just ten months, with two more expected before the end of the week.
In the midst of these confirmation votes, the Judiciary Committee met twice to vet or advance ten nominees. Four nominees appeared before the panel Wednesday including Leonard Grasz, a nominee to the 8th Circuit, and three district court nominees. Eight other candidates, Eid and Bibas among them, were advanced by the committee to the full Senate for debate and confirmation last Thursday.
Final votes could come before the end of the year, a move that would leave Trump’s judicial confirmation record without precedent in the modern era.
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