Judiciary Dems accuse GOP of rushing court nominees as 10 advance

Judiciary Dems accuse GOP of rushing court nominees as 10 advance
© Camille Fine

Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee chastised their Republican colleagues on Thursday, accusing them of rushing President TrumpDonald John TrumpClinton and Ocasio-Cortez joke about Kushner's alleged use of WhatsApp Missouri Gov. declares state of emergency amid severe flooding Swalwell on Hicks testimony: 'She's going to have to tell us who she lied for' in Trump admin MORE’s judicial nominees through the  confirmation process.

Ranking member Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinGOP lawmaker offers constitutional amendment capping Supreme Court seats at 9 Overnight Energy: Judge halts drilling on Wyoming public lands over climate change | Dems demand details on Interior's offshore drilling plans | Trump mocks wind power Dem senators demand offshore drilling info before Bernhardt confirmation hearing 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.” 

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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 LeahyCitizens lose when partisans play politics with the federal judiciary Senate Dems petition Saudi king to release dissidents, US citizen Patrick Leahy sits at center of partisan judicial nominations 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 FrankenMan who threatened to kill Obama, Maxine Waters faces up to 20 years in prison Gillibrand defends her call for Franken to resign Gillibrand: Aide who claimed sexual harassment was 'believed' 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 CruzMichael Bennet 'encouraged' in possible presidential bid: report Biden-Abrams ticket would be a genius media move Families of Kenyan victims seek compensation for Ethiopian Airlines crash 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.”