Another Trump Judicial Pick Rated Unqualified Advances (1)

Oct. 31, 2019, 2:57 PMUpdated: Oct. 31, 2019, 5:28 PM

Another Donald Trump judicial nominee rated unqualified by the American Bar Association advanced in the Senate Oct. 31 while action on two controversial appeals court picks was again deferred.

The Judiciary Committee approved and sent to the full Senate for consideration the nomination of Sarah Pitlyk to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, and three other federal district court nominees.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary in September rated her as not qualified for the lifetime appointment, saying she lacks the requisite courtroom experience to serve as a trial judge.

Democrats are also critical of Pitlyk’s work advancing Republican legal positions on abortion. She works for the Thomas More Society, the “national public interest law firm dedicated to restoring respect in law for life, family, and religious liberty.”

Pitlyk and her Republican defenders on the committee said her personal views wouldn’t affect her judicial performance.

Disagreement over ABA ratings has been contentious for Judiciary Committee members. A number of Democrats have complained that too many Trump judicial selections are unqualified, while some Republicans have called the ABA ratings political and biased toward liberal views.

The disagreement boiled over Oct. 30 when the committee clashed over the role of the ABA Standing Committee after it issued a harsh assessment of Lawrence VanDyke, who also received an unqualified rating for a seat on the U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit.

Although the ratings controversy has roiled the committee, it hasn’t stopped the Republican-led Senate from confirming more than 150 Trump nominees to district and circuit courts. For instance, Justin Walker was confirmed last week to a district court seat in Kentucky despite an ABA unqualified rating.

While Pitlyk moved ahead, the committee tabled action for another week on two controversial circuit court nominees, White House lawyer and former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Menashi and U.S. District Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden. They’ve been nominated to the Second and Fifth Circuits, respectively, and both have uncertain Senate support.

Judiciary Committee Republicans Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri both believe Ozerden, a district court judge in Mississippi, isn’t suited for one of the most conservative circuit courts in the country, and don’t plan to vote for him.

Menashi was criticized by both sides of the aisle at his confirmation hearing for not being forthcoming about his role in the Trump administration. Progressives also have criticized the former clerk for Justice Samuel Alito over past writings on race, abortion, sexual assault, and other issues. He’s said he abhors discrimination.

The Judiciary Committee Oct. 31 also advanced the following nominations to the full Senate:

(Updates with additional reporting throughout.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com; John Crawley at jcrawley@bloomberglaw.com

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