Judiciary advances 17 judicial nominees
The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced 17 judicial nominees, several of which were vehemently opposed by Democrats, to the floor for a vote Thursday, along with three nominees for top posts in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
The committee hearing largely focused on Thomas Farr, who Trump tapped for a lifetime seat on the federal district court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), one of the committee’s newest members, pushed Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) to hold over Farr’s nomination and schedule a second hearing.
Farr has faced accusations of lying to the Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing in September about his involvement in a scheme to intimidate black voters during Jesse Helms’s campaign for a North Carolina Senate seat in 1992.
“Mr. Farr’s hearing before this committee occurred before Sen. [Kamala] Harris and I joined and we have not had the opportunity to ask Mr. Farr in person and to go through this testimony on these very troubling questions,” Booker said.
“We have factual implications that cast a shadow over the truthfulness of a person for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench,” he said.
In response to written questions following his hearing, Farr denied he had any involvement in the campaign’s mailing of more than 100,000 postcards to mostly African-American voters suggesting they were ineligible to vote or that voting could lead to criminal prosecution.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who has long supported Farr, shot back, calling the accusations that Farr had anything to do with the mailings false.
“Destroying a good man’s reputation is inappropriate,” he said.
Grassley said he disagreed with the need for another hearing and carried on with a vote. Farr was voted out of committee along party lines, 1-10.
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, including Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) and Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), were also in attendance to protest Farr’s nomination in addition to the nomination of Eric Dreiband to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
Dreiband was also opposed by committee Democrats, who cited his 2008 testimony against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and his work as a private attorney that Democrats said fought against LGBT rights.
Dreiband represented the University of North Carolina when it was sued for alleged discrimination against transgender people.
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) slammed Dreiband, calling him “uniquely unqualified” to defend and enforce the core civil rights laws.
“He testified it’s not in the best interest of the American people for women to be paid the same as men,” he shouted during an impassioned speech. “Now, the word Neanderthal comes to mind, but I will not use it. I will only think it.”
The agenda, which was stacked with nominees who were renominated by the White House at the beginning of the year, included three circuit court nominees — Elizabeth Branch for the 11th Circuit, Stuart Kyle Duncan for the 5th Circuit and David Stras for the 8th Circuit.
Members of progressive groups like Alliance for Justice, donned blue T-shirts that read #MonsterMarkup across the chest to protest the shear number of nominees voted on Thursday.
Advocates have accused Grassley of slipping controversial nominees into a packed agenda to avoid public scrutiny.
The committee went forward with Stras’s confirmation hearing despite having never received a blue slip from former Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) supporting his nomination.
The “blue slip” process has traditionally been a way for the home-state senators of a judicial nominee to block a nomination.
Stras, however, did gain the support of his other home-state Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
“He would not be my first choice for this job … but morally when I look at this and have to answer the question is he qualified, I have to say yes,” she said.
Duncan and Brian Benczkowski, nominated to be an Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ’s Criminal Division, were also widely opposed by Democrats on the committee.
Duncan served as the appellate counsel for North Carolina officials in their fight for a state law banning transgender people from using the bathroom of their choice and Benczkowski was the attorney for Alfa Bank, a Russian bank scrutinized by the FBI last year after computer specialists detected an odd stream of data between a server linked to the Trump Organization and a bank server, The New York Times reported.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) asked what the standard is when weighing a nominee’s qualifications.
“Are nominees disqualified by virtue of the clients and the causes that he or she has represented as a lawyer?” he asked.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said the test should be whether their conduct as private citizens has been so extreme on questions they will face as federal judges that it makes future litigants apprehensive to come before them.
“It’s hard to sort out who will leave their advocacy and politics in the robing room and who will let it leak onto the bench with them,” he said.
Two nominees — Charles Goodwin for a federal judgeship on the district court for the Western District of Oklahoma and Holly Lou Teeter for a federal judgeship on the district court in Kansas— also advanced after having received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.