Bloomberg Law
March 9, 2023, 5:30 PMUpdated: March 9, 2023, 10:20 PM

Senator Committee Absence Again Stalls Court Nominee Votes (2)

Tiana Headley
Tiana Headley

The Senate Judiciary Committee again delayed consideration of a nominee who would be the first Black woman federal district judge in Washington state, as the Democratic-led panel continues to lack a tie-breaking vote.

Charnelle Bjelkengren was poised for a vote on Thursday after she was held over from the Feb. 16 markup, a perfunctory move afforded to most nominees following their confirmation hearings.

But Democrats canceled the subsequent March 2 meeting amid Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) absence for treatment of shingles. She expects to make a return later this month, Feinstein press secretary Adam Russell told Bloomberg Law.

Feinstein’s absence while she continues to recover has complicated the one-seat advantage Democrats hold in the committee, as nominees need only a simple majority to advance with a favorable recommendation to the floor.

Feinstein could be a crucial vote for Bjelkengren, a target of Republican pushback after stumbling over questions at her hearing.

The committee also delayed votes on Orelia Merchant for the Eastern District of New York in Brooklyn, and Robert Kirsch and Michael Farbiarz for trial court seats in New Jersey. All three were expected to receive a vote after being held over.

The only judicial nominee who received a vote was Matthew P. Brookman, an Indiana trial court pick with support from both Republican home-state senators. Brookman was unanimously voted out of committee on Thursday.

Feinstein is just one of several Democratic senators whose health-related absences have been making it harder to advance judicial nominees in an already narrowly divided chamber. Democratic Sen. John Fetterman (Pa.) is attending to health issues and Sen. Jeff Merkley (Ore.) has been out after his mother died.

Vice President Kamala Harris cast her first tiebreaking votes to confirm two of President Joe Biden’s judicial selections last week.

Fetterman spokesman Joe Calvello said that the senator “is doing well,” meeting with staff daily, and “remains on a path to recovery.” But he did not offer a timeframe for a return beyond saying it would be “a weeks-long process.”

Judicial nominees are still advancing on the floor. Maria Araújo Kahn was confirmed to the Second Circuit on Thursday along with the fourth trial court nominee of the week,
James Edward Simmons, Jr. to the Southern District of California. Six trial court nominees were confirmed last week.

But the absences underscore the pressure on the nominations process of having just a few senators out.

Some selections pending for more than a year await a confirmation vote. They include Nancy Abudu to the Eleventh Circuit; Dale Ho to the Southern District of New York, and Hernan Vera to the Central District of California.

—With assistance from Madison Alder.

(Updates with Thursday confirmation votes.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Tiana Headley at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Seth Stern at; John Crawley at

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