Dems Paint Ninth Circuit Nominee as DC Carpetbagger

An image of the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco, home of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is overlaid by a photo of Ninth Circuit nominee Daniel Bress. (Background photo by Ernest McGray/Associated Press)

WASHINGTON (CN) – On deck for a Ninth Circuit judgeship, a lawyer who has spent the last 11 years on the Beltway faced tough questions Wednesday about whether he can still call California his home.  

“Once this door is open, all of our states are subject to having out-of-state lawyers confirmed,” said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, opening up a Judiciary Committee hearing this morning on the nomination of Daniel Bress.

“It is going to be a genie we can’t put back in the bottle,” Feinstein added.

Feinstein recognized that Bress is an experienced litigator, and even interned at her office early in his career, but repeatedly described the nomination of the California-born attorney as an affront to lawyers residing and practicing in her state.

Both Feinstein and fellow California Senator Kamala Harris said they would not support President Donald Trump’s nomination of Bress to fill the appellate court seat vacated by Judge Alex Kozinski.

An alum of Harvard University and the University of Virginia School of Law, Bress began his career as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Though he returned to California in 2007 as an associate at the San Francisco firm Munger Tolles and Olson, he moved back to D.C. just a year later as an associate at Kirkland Ellis where he is now a partner. Born in 1979, Bress is a Virginia resident and has never held judicial office.

At Wednesday’s hearing, several Democrats voiced frustration at the lack of respect for blue-slip courtesy, a tradition under which the wishes of the home-state senators typically guide judicial nominations.

“You have become complicit with the tearing down of the one rule that protects our ability to have circuit seats associated with our home states,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island.

Republican committee members repeated throughout the hearing that Bress maintains membership on the California Bar and has litigated cases before the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit, as well as the U.S. District Courts for California’s Northern, Eastern and Central Districts. They also repeated the point that Bress left California  in 2008 to support his wife’s career, a claim Bress did not elaborate on in detail.

Chairman Lindsey Graham said he believes Bress is “Californian enough,” singling out Harris for imbuing the judicial nomination process with partisan tensions.

“Senator Harris is never going to vote for anybody nominated by Trump. Period,” said Graham, a South Carolina Republican. “We could not find somebody that had a more California connection than Mr. Bress, and I have waited months to try to find somebody.”

But Harris said she informed the White House that she would have accepted the nomination of Stanley Blumenfeld, selected by the White House for a District Court seat in California. Harris declined to question Bress at today’s hearing, saying it would only give undue legitimacy to the nomination.

Utah Senator Mike Lee argued that Bress has maintained deep connections to California, vacationing in his hometown of Gilroy and at times working from the San Francisco office of Kirkland & Ellis.

Lee also drew comparisons between Bress’ education and legal career and that of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, who attended high school, undergraduate university and law school on the East Coast and carried out a private practice in D.C. before being appointed to the Denver-based 10th Circuit.

For Democrats, however, the nominee’s very resume shows that his professional achievements — including recognition from The National Journal as D.C. Rising Star in 2017, and from Benchmark Litigation as D.C. Future Star in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — are rooted in the nation’s capital and not California.

In response to questions from Feinstein, Bress said he does not hold a California driver’s license, does not send his children to California schools and has not voted in a California state election since moving to D.C. 

He said he is “honored and excited about the prospect of returning home,” however, and that his “heart is in California.”

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