The Senate Judiciary Committee approved 17 of President Trump’s judicial nominations Thursday, including two who received “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association and one who was opposed by the Congressional Black Caucus.
The committee approved the nominations of three U.S. circuit court judges — Elizabeth Branch to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Kyle Duncan to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals and David Stras to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals — and 14 U.S. district court judges.
Eight of the nominations were voted out of the committee along party lines. One, Stan Baker for U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, was approved by voice vote.
Several of the nominations for district court judges were voted out of the committee last year, but were not voted on by the full Senate.
Charles Goodwin, who was nominated to be a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, and Holly Lou Teeter, nominated to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, received “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association last year.
But the rating didn’t prevent Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee from supporting Teeter’s nomination, as she was unanimously approved by the panel 21-0 Thursday.
Democrats on the committee took particular issue with the nomination of Thomas Farr to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, who was a lawyer for Sen. Jesse Helms' re-election campaign when it tried to intimidate black voters.
Helms’ campaign sent out a postcard in 1990 to more than 100,000 voters, most of whom were black, suggesting they were ineligible to vote.
Farr, who worked as a lawyer for the re-election campaign, told Sen Cory Booker, D-N.J., in a letter last year he did not know about the content of the postcards and said he was “appalled” when he saw the language on them.
The Congressional Black Caucus opposed Farr’s nomination and encouraged the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject it.
On Thursday, Booker and Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., the Judiciary Committee’s two newest members, called for Farr to appear before the committee for a second hearing. But Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, rejected their request.
In addition to Farr, Democrats also zeroed in on Stras; Duncan; Matthew Kacsmaryk, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas; and Mark Norris, nominated to the U.S. District for the Western District of Tennessee.
Duncan, Kacsmaryk, and Norris all advanced out of the committee along party lines, while Stras received support from two Democrats.
The approval of Duncan and Stras's nominations to the federal appeals courts was cheered by conservatives.
“I applaud the Senate Judiciary Committee for voting two of President Trump’s exceptional judicial nominees out of committee today: 5th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Kyle Duncan and 8th Circuit Court of Appeals nominee Justice David Stras," said Carrie Severino, chief counsel of the Judicial Crisis Network. "Both Duncan and Stras are brilliant and will apply the law fairly. I’m looking forward to a swift confirmation by the Senate of these excellent judicial nominees in the coming days.”
Grassley had been criticized for scheduling the vote on the 17 nominations, given that Congress is dealing with the threat of a partial government shutdown.
“It is disgraceful that, as the nation teeters on the brink of a government shutdown, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley is forcing a vote on almost two dozen nominees, including a number of highly controversial judicial nominees who are being considered for lifetime appointments to the federal bench,” Sharon McGowan, director of strategy for Lambda Legal, said in a statement Wednesday.
The votes by the Senate Judiciary Committee are the first of 2018, and follow a record-breaking year for Trump on judicial nominations.
Last year, the Senate confirmed 12 of the president’s nominations to the federal appeals courts, the most any president has had approved in his first year in office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Grassley previously indicated they weren’t expecting to slow down the pace of judicial confirmations this year.