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Trump Hits 40 Appeals Court Appointments as Lee Confirmed (1)

May 15, 2019, 4:58 PMUpdated: May 15, 2019, 10:46 PM

Kenneth Lee became President Donald Trump’s 40th appeals court nominee to win confirmation, a milestone not reached by his three immediate predecessors until their second terms.

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed the first generation South Korean immigrant and Jenner & Block partner, 52 to 45, to a seat on the California-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Republican majority has uniformly supported Trump judicial nominees although Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah created controversy on Tuesday when he voted against confirming district court appointee Michael Truncale.

Romney reportedly said he did so because Truncale, who was confirmed easily, once had made disparaging comments about President Barack Obama. Romney lost to Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

Lee, who also was an associate counsel to President George W. Bush, became the fifth confirmed Trump appointee to the Ninth Circuit, a court the president’s sharply criticized for adverse rulings on high profile issues including immigration.

Trump and his Senate Republican allies have pushed an aggressive confirmation agenda in a bid to reshape the federal judiciary with conservatives.

With the Lee vote, Trump has recorded 40 circuit court appointments four months past the midway point of taking office. Democrats Bill Clinton and Obama and Republican George W. Bush didn’t hit the mark until their second terms.

Trump has been the beneficiary of a Republican Party in sync with his judicial strategy and a pool of nominees ready to fill vacancies, a number of which were held open by the GOP-led Senate during the Obama years.

The Federalist Society has been influential in Trump’s judicial selections, many of whom are members of the conservative group.

Lee went through without the approval of both California Democrats, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris. They opposed him over his failure to disclose writings from his college years about race and harassment.

Lee apologized, and said that he lacked maturity when he wrote them.

“When you’re young, you think you know everything and not only that, you think everyone else is wrong,” Lee told the Senate Judiciary Committee in March.

Republicans have allowed votes on nominees even if they don’t have “blue slips” indicating the support of home-state senators, a departure from the Senate’s practice during the Obama administration.

With Lee, the Ninth Circuit has 16 judges appointed by Democrats and 10 appointed by Republicans. The court still has three vacancies, two of which have nominees pending.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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