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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 TrumpSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' GOP braces for wild week with momentous vote One quick asylum fix: How Garland can help domestic violence survivors 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 CollinsCheney drama exposes GOP's Trump rifts House to advance appropriations bills in June, July Manchin touts rating as 'most bipartisan senator' 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 McConnellGOP braces for wild week with momentous vote GOP divided over expected Cheney ouster Sunday shows - White House COVID-19 response coordinator says US is 'turning the corner' 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 MillerBiden fills immigration court with Trump hires Sunday shows preview: Biden hits the road to promote infrastructure proposals; US begins withdrawal from Afghanistan Trump speechwriter calls Biden address 'tedious' MORE.   

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerSanders: Reinstating SALT deduction 'sends a terrible, terrible message' Biden to meet with GOP senators amid infrastructure push The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Emergent BioSolutions - Upbeat jobs data, relaxed COVID-19 restrictions offer rosier US picture 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 GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces 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.