WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved five judicial nominees, including one who is up for a seat on the 10th Circuit.
Joel Carson, who currently serves as a part-time magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, would be the second judge President Donald Trump has placed on the 10th Circuit if he clears the full Senate.
He received the approval of the Judiciary Committee with a 15-6 vote on Thursday morning.
Carson faced an easy nomination hearing in February, during which he told senators he would not let his personal view impact his decision making on the bench and that while he does not consider himself an originalist, he would not object to being called a textualist.
“Senator, I certainly live my life by a moral compass,” Carson told lawmakers at the time. “As far as moral truths and the role of a judge, I think a judge is required to apply the rule of law as set forth in the Constitution and laws of the United States and not based on their moral beliefs.”
Carson is a partner at the Roswell, N.M., firm Carson Ryan and also spent time as a partner and associate at Hinkle Hensley Shanor & Martin and general counsel for Mack Energy Corporation, a New Mexico based energy company.
The University of New Mexico School of Law grad faced written questions from senators after his nomination hearing about his work representing energy companies. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked about his work filing a friend of the court brief for Western Energy Alliance asking a court to invalidate a local ordinance banning fracking.
When Feinstein pressed Carson on why he labeled the ordinance as coming from “activist local and county governments,” the nominee pointed out the court sided with his client’s position that the ordinance stepped on the state’s regulatory authority.
The committee also approved a former Federal Trade Commission attorney who is nominated to serve on the Court of Federal Claims. Ryan Holte, whose nomination fell on the same day as Carson’s, faced questions about his experience, as the law professor and inventor told lawmakers he has never tried a case.
Holte worked as a law professor at the Southern Illinois University School of Law before moving to the University of Akron School of Law. Holte told Feinstein that while he has not tried a case, he clerked on the court for a year and has experience advising clients on issues the court often considers. He also said his academic work has required him to keep current on the recent opinions from the Court of Federal Claims and the Federal Circuit.
In addition, Holte is the co-inventor of a device meant to help soldiers evade GPS detection from drones and other guided munitions and he told Feinstein his work as chief counsel for the company that holds the patent has made him very familiar with “the uniqueness and ‘language’ of that world.”
The Court of Federal Claims is a special court that hears cases involving monetary claims against the government. Many of the court’s cases involve disputes surrounding government contracts and it does not use juries. As a result, Holte said his experience as a researcher, inventor and attorney advising clients on intellectual property issues will serve him well on the bench.
“Just the same as when I clerked on the court, this scientific expertise and background would serve as a key asset to understanding the often dense technical subjects that come before this court and the unique government litigation defendants – like [the United States Maritime Administration] – that are regular parties before the court,” Holte wrote to Feinstein. “In addition to legal experience, I have significant practical experience with Court of Federal Claims issues.”
Holte said Court of Federal Claims Judge Loren Smith and 11th Circuit Judge Stanley Birch, both of whom he clerked for, have helped him prepare for taking a spot on the court .
A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Holte in 2016 also volunteered to do communications work on election day for his local Republican party, while his wife served as a Republican committeewoman in Illinois’ Williamson County.
Holte faced the most Democratic opposition of any judge the committee considered Thursday, but still cleared the panel on a 14-7 vote.
In addition to Holte and Carson, the committee approved two nominees for spots on the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware with strong, bipartisan majorities.
Only Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, voted against Colm Connolly on Thursday, as the former federal prosecutor cleared the committee on a 20-1 vote. Connolly handled the state’s first federal civil rights prosecution, earning guilty pleas from two members of white supremacist groups and a third person who opened fire at the playground of a low-income housing project whose residents were mostly minorities.
“It was, I think, a very good moment for the office and sent a good message to the public,” Connolly said at his nomination hearing in February when asked about the case.
Connolly served as a federal prosecutor in Delaware from 1993 to 1999 before temporarily jumping to private practice at the Wilmington, Del., firm Morris, Nichols, Arsht and Tunnell. He returned to prosecutorial work in 2001 and remained in the job until 2009, when he took a position at his current firm, Morgan Lewis and Bockius.
The committee unanimously approved Maryellen Noreika, a longtime associate and partner at Morris, Nichols, Arsht and Tunnell, for a seat on the same Delaware federal court. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said both nominees were the product of an “independent” nominating committee and consultation with the White House.
“I am proud of both of the nominees, their long experience at the bar, the rating they got from the [American Bar Association], the experience they bring in both intellectual property and criminal law enforcement and their deep experience in the federal courts, and I think they will serve ably and I’m grateful for the strong support they got from this committee,” Coons said at the hearing.
The final judge the committee approved on Thursday was William Jung, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Jung served as a federal prosecutor in Florida from 1987 to 1993 and now works as a partner at the firm Jung Sisco. He cleared the committee on a unanimous vote.
All of the judges the committee approved still must be confirmed by the full Senate before they can take their positions.