The Next Big Judicial Confirmation Fight Is In Wisconsin

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Kevin Daley Supreme Court correspondent
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Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-aligned political advocacy group, launched a vigorous campaign Thursday pushing Michael Brennan’s confirmation to the 7th U.S Circuit Court of Appeals.

The effort targets Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin, whose opposition to Brennan prompted a deeply personal conflict in the Senate over the conventions and traditions of the judicial confirmations. The campaign, focused primarily on digital advertising, is part of a high six-figure investment the group will make this year pushing President Donald Trump’s appeals court nominees.

“Brennan’s exceptional record as a lawyer and jurist makes him an outstanding nominee for the 7th Circuit, and he should be confirmed by the Senate immediately,” said Sarah Field, AFP’s vice president for judicial strategy. “We urge the citizens of Wisconsin to get involved and contact their senators in Brennan’s support. Each day that passes without this vacancy filled means another day where American citizens are denied the justice guaranteed to them by the Constitution.”

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Brennan is currently in private practice at Gass Weber Mullins LLC in Milwaukee. He was previously a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court and clerked on the 7th Circuit for Judge Daniel Manion. He is a graduate of Notre Dame and the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law.

By longstanding convention, the Senate Committee on the Juediciary will not schedule a confirmation hearing until the two senators representing the state where the particular vacancy occurs turn in a “blue slip” indicating their support or opposition for the nominee. Brennan was tapped for one of Wisconsin’s 7th Circuit seats, giving Baldwin something of a veto over his nomination.

Though Baldwin withheld her blue slip, the state’s other senator, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, turned in his, so committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley scheduled a hearing for Brennan. The hearing was held on Jan. 24, and the panel advanced his nomination on a narrow party line vote on Feb. 15.

Democrats on the committee vigorously objected to the vote, accusing Republicans of destroying the comity and power of the Senate. Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, a former chairman of the committee, delivered forceful remarks in which he lambasted the majority.

“Every one of you knows that I protected you,” Leahy told GOP senators. The senator generally abided by the blue slip tradition during his tenure as chairman, despite intense pressure from Democratic presidents.

Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island warned that the committee had taken “a very perilous step.”

“We applaud Sen. Grassley for ushering Brennan through committee and ignoring the political games of Senator Baldwin, who continues to value partisanship over the best interests of her constituent,” Field said.

The 7th Circuit is the federal appeals court based in Chicago, Ill., and covers Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

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