The Republican-led U.S. Senate after a slow start this year has accelerated the pace of confirming Donald Trump appeals court nominees with more expected in coming days.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said prior to the confirmation on Tuesday of Allison Jones Rushing to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that he’s got two more in the pipeline for this week and more to be considered next.
McConnell is leading Trump’s charge to remake the federal judiciary with conservative appellate judges, having steered 32 through the Senate since the president took office a little more than two years ago.
With the Republican legislative agenda mired in even more congressional gridlock now that Democrats control the House, McConnell has made judicial appointments requiring only Senate consideration an even higher priority than they already were.
Unlike the past two years when Republican Senate control was razor thin, McConnell has more votes and the procedural leverage to overcome some Republican opposition.
This climate was evident following Rushing’s 53-44 confirmation when the chamber voted by a nearly identical margin on a procedural motion to end debate and advance the nomination of Chad Readler to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said earlier in a rare GOP defection that she ultimately wouldn’t support Readler whose likely confirmation could come as early as Wednesday.
Her position was rooted in his role as a senior official with the Justice Department’s civil division when it wouldn’t defend the Affordable Care Act in court.
“Mr. Readler was both a lead attorney and policy advisor in the department’s decision not to defend the Affordable Care Act, including its provisions protecting individuals with pre-existing conditions,” she said in a statement.
“Rather than defend the law and its protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions—such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease—Mr. Readler’s brief in Texas v. United States argued that they should be invalidated.”
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas ruled the Obama-era health law was unconstitutional in December in a case now before the Fifth Circuit.
Collins, a moderate, is up for re-election to a fifth term in 2020 but hasn’t decided whether she’s running. She’s broken with conservatives who lead the Senate in the past on abortion and other hot-button cultural issues, but her vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has energized Democrats in a state that went for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump in 2016.
Democrats mostly oppose Trump’s judicial nominations but have few levers to pull to block or derail them. They used the Affordable Care Act decision to escalate pressure on Collins and other GOP moderates viewed as politically vulnerable to reject Readler. They’re also taking a harder run at Ninth Circuit nominee Kenneth Lee, saying he’s dragged his feet on disclosing the full scope of college-era articles on race from the mid-1990s.
The failure of Lee, a Jenner & Block partner, to notify the committee about such writings “has been an ongoing problem from the outset of his consideration” as a nominee, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris said on Monday.
Lee didn’t offer any immediate comment on the latest criticisms of his nomination from his home-state senators.
One of his writings from Cornell included Angry Yellow Men, a 1996 piece concerning affirmative action for the New Republic.
Feinstein and Harris want the Judiciary Committee to drop his planned confirmation hearing. But there’s no indication from panel Chairman Lindsey Graham that he’ll consider that.
—With Bloomberg Government’s Nancy Ognanovich