Senate Republicans are prepping a judicial confirmation bonanza.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell filed cloture Thursday for four nominees to federal circuit courts, the powerful appeals panels that give the final word on the overwhelming majority of cases in U.S. courts. Confirmation votes will follow next week.
The nominees are Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan Larsen for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Cincinnati-based appeals court, Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid for the 10th Circuit, the Denver-based appeals court, Notre Dame Law School Professor Amy Coney Barrett for the 7th Circuit, the Chicago-based appeals court, and University of Pennsylvania Law School Professor Stephanos Bibas for the 3rd Circuit, the Philadelphia-based appeals court.
Larsen was among the 21 candidates included on President Donald Trump’s list of possible Supreme Court nominees during the 2016 presidential election. She is widely seen as a frontrunner for the next Republican appointment to the high court.
Speaking Thursday on the Senate floor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell lavished praise on the nominees and vowed swift confirmations.
“President Trump has done a terrific job of nominating judges who are already helping to restore the courts to their intended function in our system of government,” McConnell said. “The nominees we will consider next week are sure to do the same.”
Two of the nominees, Barrett and Bibas, were subjected to intense Democratic criticism. During her confirmation hearing Sept. 6, several Democratic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee suggested that Barrett’s orthodox religious views would preclude her from effectively discharging her judicial duties. Barrett is a Roman Catholic who has produced scholarship concerning the ethical obligations of Catholic judges.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, argued that Barrett’s writings betray a rigid religious ideologue ill-suited for a judicial post.
“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Feinstein said. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.” Her concerns were later reiterated by Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin and Mazie Hirono.
Feinstein’s remarks, which were first reported by The Daily Caller News Foundation, were roundly condemned by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, while something of a pro-Barrett cottage industry promoted novelty items supporting her confirmation.
McConnell accused Democrats of applying a religious litmus test against the Notre Dame professor.
“Amy Barrett happens to be a nominee who is a Catholic, and who speaks freely and openly about her faith and its importance to her,” the leader said. “For some on the left, that seems to be a disqualifying factor for her nomination.”
He added that he expects Barrett will be confirmed as soon as Monday.
Barrett and Larsen cleared the Judiciary Committee Oct. 5 on party line votes.
Bibas received similarly coarse treatment from committee Democrats, particularly Durbin, who savaged the professor for
exploring the merits corporal punishment in the penal system — including electric shock therapy — in an unpublished 2009 journal article. Bibas has disavowed what he characterizes as an ill-advised thought experiment, and is widely seen as a thoughtful scholar by criminal justice experts across the political spectrum.
Still, Durbin vehemently denounced his nomination.
“Please, before you vote to give this professor a lifetime appointment to the second highest court in the land, read what he has written and ask yourself the honest question, Democrat or Republican,” he said. “Seriously? Are we going to vote this man into this position?”
The confirmation votes may go some distance in sooting conservative anxieties about the sluggish pace of judicial confirmations in the early months of the Trump administration. Though the president has named some 50 judicial nominees since taking office in January, the Senate has confirmed just seven thus far, including Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. There are currently 150 vacancies across the federal courts, according to the Judicial Conference of the United States.
Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation who writes frequently about judicial confirmations and the Supreme Court, called McConnell’s actions encouraging, but cautioned that Senate Republicans should move at a faster clip, given the scale of the vacancies.
“It’s encouraging to see Majority Leader McConnell follow through on his promise to make judicial nominations a top priority,” she told TheDCNF. “These four individuals will be excellent additions to the federal bench. But other nominees, like David Stras, are still waiting for a hearing. There’s a lot of work to be done to fill the more than 150 vacancies on our federal courts.”
Barrett, Bibas, Eid, and Larsen were nominated for vacancies in states with at least one Democratic senator. Though those Democrats allowed their nominations to proceed by returning blue slips to the Judiciary Committee, it is unclear if any of the candidates will win significant Democratic support.
All four nominees are expected to win confirmation.
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