The Senate Judiciary Committee queued up four more judicial confirmations Thursday, sending an appeals court nominee and three trial court nominees to the full Senate for final approval.
Three of the four nominees attracted bipartisan support.
The panel voted 15-6 to approve Judge Kurt Engelhard’s nomination to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Engelhard is currently a judge on the federal trial court in New Orleans, La. The 5th Circuit is the federal appeals court based in New Orleans, that covers Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. The president has made several other appointments to the court, widely regarded as one of the most conservative in the country. Judges Don Willett and James Ho were confirmed in Dec. 2017, while Kyle Duncan’s confirmation to the 5th Circuit is expected in the coming weeks.
The committee also advanced two trial court nominees. James Sweeney, tapped for the federal trial court in southern Indiana, was unanimously approved, while Barry Ashe, a nominee for a Louisiana trial court, drew just one dissenting vote from Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii.
The fourth nominee, Howard Nielson for the Utah federal trial court, advanced on a narrow party-line vote. Nielson worked in former President George W. Bush’s Justice Department in the Office of Legal Counsel that generated legal rationales for controversial anti-terror techniques like torture. Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, has been especially scrupulous with nominees who may be connected to the so-called torture memos.
The panel delayed consideration of Michael Brennan’s nomination to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Brennan was tapped for a seat in Wisconsin. Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin attempted to block Brennan’s confirmation by withholding a “blue slip” from Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley. By Senate convention, the committee will not schedule a confirmation hearing until the two senators representing the state where the particular vacancy occurs turn in a slip indicating their support or opposition for the nominee.
Though Baldwin has withheld her blue slip, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin turned in his, giving Grassley, a Republican, some justification on which to schedule Brennan’s hearing that was held on Jan. 24.
The 7th Circuit is the federal appeals court based in Chicago, Ill., and covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
The Senate has confirmed 13 of President Donald Trump’s nominees to the appeals court. The president’s 12 successful appeals court nominations is a record in the modern era.
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