WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced the nomination of an Alabama federal judge President Donald Trump has tapped for a seat on the 11th Circuit, as well as four other judicial nominees.
It appears the package of nominees will be the last the committee advances to the full Senate until after Trump's impeachment trial wraps, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lindsey Graham said the committee will not meet again until then.
Among the nominees advanced was Judge Andrew Brasher, whom the Senate confirmed in May to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Brasher, now up for a spot on the 11th Circuit, served as solicitor general for the state of Alabama from 2014 to 2019 and served before that as the state's deputy solicitor general.
A former clerk for Judge William Pryor on the 11th Circuit, Brasher also spent time in private practice at the Birmingham, Ala., firm Bradley Arant Boult Cummings.
As with his first pass through the Senate, much of the debate around Brasher's nomination focused on his time in the state solicitor general's office. As with other nominees who have held the job in red states, Democrats raised objections to Brasher's work advocating on behalf of the state in court.
Brasher signed onto a friend of the court brief that supported a Supreme Court challenge to a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, arguing the formula that determined which jurisdictions had to get federal approval before changing its voting procedures was outdated.
The court sided with the challengers in the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, a decision that Democrats and voting rights advocates have vocally criticized as weakening protections for minorities with a history of being targeted with discriminatory voting laws.
Brasher also defended Alabama's legislative map from accusations that it was an unconstitutional racial gerrymander and signed onto briefs defending voter identification laws.
Democrats and advocacy groups also opposed Brasher for his defense of state restrictions on abortion, including an Alabama law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
Democrats said Brasher's record in court calls into question whether he will be able to be impartial while serving on the federal bench.
"The extreme views that he has enunciated are not a bug of his candidacy," Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I. "They are the feature of his candidacy for which he was nominated."
Brasher's supporters said Democrats were being unfair, as it was Brasher's job as the top attorney in the state of Alabama to defend its laws. Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, said lawmakers should be careful about assuming an attorney holds deeply the views of his or her client.
Senator John Kennedy, R-La., said senators should be looking to Brasher’s degree from Harvard Law School, his prestigious clerkship and his ability to land coveted legal jobs as evidence that he is qualified for a job as an appeals court judge.
"Now I know this is a news flash, but Alabama is a conservative state," Kennedy said before the vote. "The governor tends to be conservative, the Legislature tends to be conservative and lawyers represent the positions of their clients."
The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has rated Brasher well qualified.
The committee advanced Brasher's nomination to the full Senate with a 12-10 vote.
Joshua Kindred, Trump's pick for a seat on a federal court in Alaska, faced a tight committee vote as well, as Democrats withheld their support over his record on environmental issues.
Kindred has worked as regional solicitor for the Department of the Interior's Alaska region, having previously worked as a state prosecutor.
A graduate of the University of Alaska, Anchorage and Willamette University College of Law, Kindred clerked for Chief Justice Paul De Muniz on the Oregon Supreme Court from 2005 to 2007.
Before joining the Interior Department, he was environmental counsel at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, during which time he submitted written comments on oil and gas regulations relevant to Alaska and helped the industry group's outside counsel draft briefs and prepare for oral arguments.
Kindred has made comments that question the actions of federal agencies, including in testimony before a Senate committee in 2015 in which he mentioned a "lack of faith" in the departments in Washington.
Skepticism of federal agency power, and how courts currently evaluate and decide when agencies have gone too far, has been a common theme among Trump judicial nominees, including Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.
Kindred explained to senators that he made the comments while working as an advocate for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and that he has "a great deal of respect and admiration" for federal agencies, citing his work for the Interior Department.
The committee also advanced the nominations of Matthew Schelp, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri; Scott Rash, who is nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona; and Stephen Vaden, who would sit on the Court of International Trade.
All of the nominees must now go up for a vote before the full Senate.
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