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Senate Panel OKs Judge Picks for First Time in Two Months (2)

May 14, 2020, 3:01 PMUpdated: May 14, 2020, 10:21 PM

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced to a floor vote six of President Donald Trump’s U.S. district court nominees on Thursday in its first meeting to consider any selections since mid-March when the coronavirus outbreak was declared a pandemic.

The last time the committee met to advance nominees was March 12, the day after the World Health Organization so labeled the contagion. Over the past two months, the virus altered the schedule and priorities of the Senate, shifting attention to relief packages and driving lawmakers away from the Capitol.

The nominees’ advancement makes good on a pledge from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to make those judicial appointments a priority upon the Senate’s return in early May.

Since their return, the Judiciary Committee has held a hearing for Trump’s pick for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Colombia Circuit, Justin Walker but has not yet voted on him, and it has another hearing slated for Wednesday, though a witness list hasn’t yet been released.

McConnell filed for cloture on four nominees Thursday afternoon, setting in motion their confirmation votes before the full Senate, which could take place as soon as next week.

The six newly-cleared nominees add to the 10 district court selections currently awaiting votes by the full Senate.

One nominee, Jennifer P. Togliatti, received rare pushback at the meeting from Republican committee members.

If confirmed, Togliatti would fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada that’s considered a judicial emergency, a term given to a vacancy that increases the workload for the remaining judges on that court.

She has the support of Nevada’s two Democratic senators.

Togliatti’s nomination, however, encountered some Republican opposition and there appeared to be a question as to whether it would advance after the initial vote. Republican members voting “no” included, senators Ted Cruz of Texas, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Louisiana’s John Kennedy, and Idaho’s Mike Crapo.

But Crapo later changed his vote to support her nomination, and Chairman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would advance by a 15-7 tally.

Most of the votes to approve Togliatti’s nomination came from Democratic members, but several Republicans also voted in her favor including Graham and Iowa senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and John Cornyn of Texas.

In addition to Togliatti, the committee on Thursday also advanced:

  • William Scott Hardy, for the Western District of Pennsylvania;
  • David Cleveland Joseph, for the Western District of Louisiana;
  • Drew B. Tipton, for the Southern District of Texas;
  • John Peter Cronan, for the Southern District of New York; and
  • Thomas T. Cullen, for the Western District of Virginia.
(Updated with information about cloture votes in the fourth paragraph.)

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

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Tom P. Taylor at ttaylor@bloomberglaw.com; Andrew Harris at aharris@bloomberglaw.com

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