Four Judicial Trump Picks Confirmed by Senate

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate on Wednesday confirmed four of President Donald Trump’s nominees to federal courts in Alaska, Missouri, Illinois and New York.

All of the nominees the Senate confirmed on Wednesday received bipartisan support, though Joshua Kindred — nominated to U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska – nominee garnered just two votes from Democrats amid criticism of work he did for the oil and gas industry in his home state.

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Kindred worked as environmental counsel at the Alaska Oil and Gas Association from 2013 to 2018, when he left to take a job as regional solicitor for the Department of the Interior’s Alaska region.

He also worked as a state prosecutor in Anchorage from 2008 to 2013 and as an associate at the Anchorage firm Lane Powell from 2007 to 2008. The American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Kindred qualified for a federal judgeship.

In his position with the Alaska Oil and Gas Association, Kindred was responsible for monitoring regulations on oil and gas development and often drafted and submitted comments on any changes. Kindred also oversaw litigation for the group, working with counsel to prepare arguments and draft briefs.

As a result of this work, some Democrats questioned how Kindred would approach environmental issues as a federal judge. Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, particularly pressed him on comments he made in a 2015 appearance before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee that were skeptical of the work of federal agencies.

“But I think part of the problem is it’s not necessarily the federal regulators in Alaska,” Kindred said in 2015, in response to a question about the process of receiving federal approval for certain projects in the state. “It’s the fact that it’s people 4,000 miles away who are ultimately making the decision that may be ideological in nature as opposed to practical. We are losing — day by day, year by year — faith in the fact that reasonable and prudent answers will come.”

Many of Trump’s nominees, particularly to federal appeals courts, have expressed skepticism of administrative agency power, a reflection of a broader view in the conservative legal community. When asked how parties appearing before his court that seek to uphold agency actions would be confident he would give them a fair hearing, Kindred noted his comments at the 2015 hearing came when he was an attorney for an oil and gas group, a position he no longer holds.

“Second, I currently serve as a regional solicitor for the Department of Interior, and my clients are all federal agencies, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for each of those agencies,” Kindred told Hirono in response to questions submitted in writing after his nomination hearing.

The three other nominees confirmed Wednesday received overwhelming support, even among Democrats.

Matthew Schelp, who will sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri after a 72-23 vote, has worked as a partner at the St. Louis firm Husch Blackwell since 2013. He was a federal prosecutor in the city from 2001 to 2010, when he left to found his own firm.

Schelp also served in the U.S. Navy Judge Advocate General Corp and continued serving in the same role in the Navy Reserve after leaving active duty. A member of the conservative Federalist Society since 2015, Schelp also referees high school basketball.

With an 81-12 vote Wednesday afternoon, the Senate also confirmed John Kness to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Kness works as the general counsel at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, after spending 2009 to 2016 as a federal prosecutor in Chicago.

While working as a prosecutor, Kness worked a wide range of criminal cases, from terrorism to child exploitation to health care fraud.

Finally, the Senate confirmed Philip Halpern to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York with a 77-19 vote. Halpern has been with the White Plains, New York, firm Collier Halpern & Newberg for more than 35 years, starting as an associate in 1984 before becoming a partner a year later.

The Senate has now confirmed five of Trump’s judicial nominees this week, continuing the Republican confirmation project that was briefly stalled by the president’s impeachment trial, which ended last week.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also resumed its work on judges Wednesday after a pause for impeachment, holding a nomination hearing for four Trump nominees: Judge John Badalamenti, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida; Anna Manasco, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama; Drew Tipton, nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas; and Kathryn Davis, who would sit on the Court of Federal Claims.

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