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 TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE on Thursday, over the objection of two home-state senators. 


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 CollinsCoronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority From a Republican donor to Senate GOP: Remove marriage penalty or risk alienating voters The Hill's Campaign Report: Trump's visit to battleground Ohio overshadowed by coronavirus 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 McConnellTrump signs executive orders after coronavirus relief talks falter Coronavirus deal key to Republicans protecting Senate majority Coronavirus talks collapse as negotiators fail to reach deal 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 MillerWatchdog group accuses Stephen Miller of violating Hatch Act with Biden comments Stephen Miller criticizes Obama for 'shockingly political' remarks at John Lewis funeral GOP senators push for stimulus checks to almost 2M excluded Americans MORE.   

Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerPelosi, Schumer slam Trump executive orders, call for GOP to come back to negotiating table Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief Postal Service says it lost .2 billion over three-month period 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 GillibrandExpanding our health force can save lives and create jobs simultaneously Sanders offers bill to tax billionaires' wealth gains during pandemic Senate Democrats demand answers on migrant child trafficking during pandemic 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.