Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee

Senate confirms controversial circuit court nominee
© Greg Nash

The Senate confirmed a controversial circuit court pick for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCDC updates website to remove dosage guidance on drug touted by Trump Trump says he'd like economy to reopen 'with a big bang' but acknowledges it may be limited Graham backs Trump, vows no money for WHO in next funding bill MORE on Thursday, over the objection of two home-state senators. 

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Senators voted 51-41 on Steven Menashi's nomination to be a judge on the 2nd Circuit. The vote was strictly party-line aside from Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsPresident tightens grip on federal watchdogs The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump gets new press secretary in latest shake-up Trump takes heat for firing intel watchdog during pandemic MORE (R-Maine), who opposed Menashi's nomination. 

Republicans praised Menashi ahead of the vote, arguing he was the latest example of the qualified judicial nominees coming from the Trump administration. 

“Mr. Menashi won majority support from the Judiciary Committee on the basis of strong academic and legal qualifications — degrees from Dartmouth and Stanford, clerkships on the appellate level and the Supreme Court, and experience in both teaching and practicing law," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLawmakers outline proposals for virtual voting Overnight Health Care: Trump calls report on hospital shortages 'another fake dossier' | Trump weighs freezing funding to WHO | NY sees another 731 deaths | States battle for supplies | McConnell, Schumer headed for clash Phase-four virus relief hits a wall MORE (R-Ky.) said ahead of the vote. 

Menashi earned bipartisan criticism during his Judiciary Committee hearing for refusing to answer senators' questions about his work in the Trump administration. But Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.), viewed as a potential swing vote on the panel, announced earlier this month that he would support the nomination. 

Menashi also earned pushback from outside progressive groups, as well as Democrats, because of his college writings for the conservative Dartmouth Review and his work in the administration, including on a plan to use Social Security data to limit student debt relief.

During his time as a White House lawyer, he also worked in collaboration with controversial senior adviser Stephen MillerStephen MillerRubio knocks coverage of US coronavirus cases as 'grotesque' and 'bad journalism CNN's Acosta: Trump referring to coronavirus as 'foreign virus' in Oval Office address 'smacked of xenophobia' Watchdog group sues over information on Stephen Miller's involvement in 'public charge' rule MORE.   

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerHealth care workers account for 20 percent of Iowa coronavirus cases Pressure mounts on Congress for quick action with next coronavirus bill Schumer names coronavirus czar candidates in plea to White House MORE (D-N.Y.) lashed out at Menashi ahead of Thursday's vote, saying he's "one of the most contemptible nominees to come before the Senate" and a "disgrace."

"Mr. Menashi is a textbook example of someone who does not deserve to sit on the federal bench, particularly with a lifetime appointment," he said.

Neither Schumer nor Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandStates battle each other for equipment in supply chain crunch The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden struggles to stay in the spotlight Biden fights for attention in coronavirus news cycle MORE (D-N.Y.) returned their blue slip on Menashi's nomination — a piece of paper that indicates if they support the nomination. 

It makes Menashi the latest judge to be confirmed by Republicans despite missing a blue slip from one or both home-state senators. Republicans confirmed the first circuit pick ever not to receive a blue slip from either home-state senator earlier this year.  

Democrats have accused Republicans of trying to defang the minority by moving nominations without support from home-state senators. Republicans counter that Democrats are trying to lean on the blue slip because the Senate, when controlled by Democrats, got rid of the 60-vote threshold for executive nominations and most judicial picks. 

The blue-slip rule — a precedent upheld by Senate tradition — has historically allowed a home-state senator to block a lower-court nominee by refusing to return the blue slip to the Judiciary Committee.

How strictly the precedent is upheld is decided by the committee chairman, and enforcement has varied depending on who wields the gavel.