Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee chastised their Republican colleagues on Thursday, accusing them of rushing President TrumpDonald TrumpGOP grapples with chaotic Senate primary in Pennsylvania Trump social media startup receives commitment of billion from unidentified 'diverse group' of investors Iran thinks it has the upper hand in Vienna — here's why it doesn't MORE’s judicial nominees through the confirmation process.
Ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinWhat's that you smell in the Supreme Court? New variant raises questions about air travel mandates Progressive groups urge Feinstein to back filibuster carve out for voting rights or resign MORE (D-Calif.) said it was the fastest confirmation pace for circuit court nominees she could remember in her 25 years on the committee.
“I want to point out that it’s a marked contrast to the traditional rate of confirmations,” she said. “For example, last week marked the fourth hearing since May when two circuit court nominees were on the agenda the same day. That’s four times in six months, yet this committee only held three hearings with two circuit court nominees in all eight years of the Obama administration.”
The committee voted 11-9 long party lines to advance 10 judicial nominees to the floor for a vote on Thursday, including three circuit court judges: Steven Grasz to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and James Ho and Don Willett to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Grasz, an Omaha lawyer, was given one of the rare “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association. The ABA said people, whose identities were kept confidential, raised serious doubts that Grasz would be able to set aside his strongly held beliefs and be impartial.
Grassley called ABA’s rating “head scratching.”
“The committee has also received letters of support from hundreds of people who know Mr. Grasz both personally and professionally and in all these letters we haven’t heard from any accuser who has said that Mr. Grasz will insert personal bias into his judging, which is one of the ABA’s unverified and unverifiable claims against him,” he said.
“All we have is the ABA’s claim that an unspecified number of anonymous accusers believe Mr. Grasz can’t separate his personal preferences from applying law in the cases that might come before him.”
Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyBiden signs four bills aimed at helping veterans The Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid On The Money — Biden sticks with Powell despite pressure MORE (D-Vt.), a former committee chairman, slammed Grassley for acceding to pressure from Republicans and reversing the blue-slip tradition that had allowed senators to block judicial nominees from their home states. The committee held a hearing last week on David Stras to serve on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Minnesota Supreme Court justice, who was named to President Trump’s list of potential candidates for the Supreme Court, did not get a blue-slip from his home state Sen. Al FrankenAlan (Al) Stuart FrankenFranken rules out challenge against Gillibrand for Senate seat Franken targets senators from both parties in new comedy tour Al Franken on another Senate run: 'I'm keeping my options open' MORE (D-Minn.).
“I’ve had that pressure and I’ve stood up to it,” Leahy said, raising his voice.
“Reversing course on your own policy simply due to a change in the White House can do lasting damage to the integrity of this committee,” he said.
Leahy said the committee should never function as a rubber stamp for nominees seeking lifetime appointments to the federal courts.
“Blue-slips were one of the few remaining guiderails on that process,” he said.
Franken, who announced shortly after the meeting that he would be resigning over sexual harassment allegations, said in September he was concerned that Stras would be a deeply conservative judge.
The few rows of seating designated for the public in the committee room were filled with members of 14 groups, including Alliance for Justice, the American Constitution Society and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, wearing blue T-shirts in protest of Grassley’s decision not to honor the blue-slip rule.
Grassley said he’d like to take the time to respond to Leahy’s criticism, but already has many times before.
When Grassley announced in November that he was moving forward with the nominations process without blue slips for Stras or Kyle Duncan, a nominee for the 5th Circuit, he said he would keep the blue slip policy to force the Trump administration to consult with lawmakers, but not let the courtesy be abused.
Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzHospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan To counter China, the Senate must confirm US ambassadors The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Congress avoids shutdown MORE (R-Texas), meanwhile, accused Democrats on the committee of slandering Ho and Willett.
Democrats grilled Willett, a Texas Supreme Court justice, about controversial tweets he posted about transgender people and same-sex marriage. Willett is a prolific Twitter user.
“He is a man of impeccable integrity and he has earned that reputation by serving the people of Texas, by serving as a justice for over a decade, by judging fairly and impartially and following the law,” Cruz said. “And yet in today’s partisan maelstrom members of this committee don’t hesitate to slander and attack his character.”