A former prosecutor and law partner who made a case for indicting Hillary Clinton over her use of an unclassified email server while secretary of state was confirmed Wednesday to the federal bench.
The Senate voted 55 to 43 to approve Kenneth Bell, a partner at McGuireWoods, for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, which includes Charlotte.
Also confirmed to lifetime district judgeships were District of Utah nominee Howard Nielson, an attorney who took litigation positions opposed to LGBT rights; Eastern District of Missouri nominee Stephen Clark, a former director of an anti-abortion organization; and Carl Nichols, a partner at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr who’s headed for the district court for the District of Columbia. Nichols clerked for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
The four reflect President Donald Trump’s vow to remake the federal courts with conservatives, a promise he’s so far kept with the Senate confirming more than 100 of his nominees since taking office in 2017.
Democrats have cited ideology for why a number of them shouldn’t serve. Supporters cite legal experience and other qualities that they say qualify them for lifetime judiciary appointments.
Among questions Bell faced during his confirmation involved an op-ed he wrote for the Charlotte Observer in July 2016 that made a prosecutorial argument for charging Clinton over the use of a private email server while serving as the nation’s top diplomat under Barack Obama.
The server controversy dogged Clinton throughout the 2016 presidential campaign and prompted an FBI review. Bell disputed former agency Director James Comey’s assertion that no reasonable prosecutor would bring felony charges against Clinton.
“I know an army of reasonable prosecutors who would have done just that, if they had been allowed,” Bell wrote.
He said later in his written responses to Senate questions that the piece was based on his years as a prosecutor under U.S. attorneys appointed by both Democrats and Republicans and as a defense attorney.
“It particularly criticized then FBI Director Comey for stating a prosecutorial decision, which in my view at the time should have been left to officials of the Department of Justice,” he said in his response to Judiciary Committee members last August.
Clinton said she broke no laws, but the controversy factored into a list of purported “crimes” and grievances from conservatives against her. It also helped spawn heated chants of “lock her up” at the party’s national convention” as well as Trump’s characterization of her as “Crooked Hillary.”
Mike Davis, a former top Judiciary Committee nominations counsel who now runs a group, the Article III Project, that supports Trump judicial nominees, pushed back on Democratic Senate questioning of Bell over his opinion piece.
“People are allowed to have opinions, and there are a lot of people who thought Hillary Clinton should have been indicted,” he said.
Bell will now preside over the district where he served as a longtime federal prosecutor.