At Long Last, One-Time Obama Nominee Makes It to Federal Bench

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate overwhelming approved a former Obama nominee to a position on an Oklahoma federal court on Thursday, nearly two years after the former federal prosecutor was first tapped for the seat.

President Barack Obama nominated Scott Palk to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma in December 2015, but he fell victim to the Republican blockade against Obama judicial nominees in 2016 and was never confirmed. President Donald Trump re-nominated Palk to the same vacancy in May.

As expected for a nominee that received support from both a Republican and a Democrat, Palk eased through his confirmation vote 76-16 on Thursday afternoon. All 16 senators who opposed Palk’s nomination were Democrats, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee who also opposed Palk’s nomination at the committee level.

Palk spent the first 20 years of his career as a prosecutor, first as an assistant district attorney in Oklahoma and later as an assistant United States attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, where he eventually rose to the position of deputy chief of the Criminal Division.

While serving as a federal prosecutor, Palk prosecuted a man who threw a Molotov cocktail into a Jewish synagogue in Oklahoma City and successfully helped defend the conviction and sentence on appeal.

Palk also worked on the prosecution of Frank Duane Welch, who was executed in 2007 for killing and raping a pregnant woman in her home in 1987. During the trial, Palk’s team introduced evidence tying Welch to a second, similar  murder from around the same time, a decision Welch later challenged as improper.

The 10th Circuit upheld the decision, saying the evidence from the second crime helped undermine Welch’s claim that the first was an accident.

Palk appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016 and did not receive a second nomination hearing after Trump re-nominated him. In a response to written questions submitted by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, after his nomination hearing, Palk said he would be impartial and fair on the bench.

“I have served as a public officer of the court for over 20 years,” Palk wrote in 2016. “During that time, I have never allowed my personal views or opinions to influence my professional conduct. If confirmed, I am committed to continue to demonstrate absolute objectivity without the influence of personal opinion.”

Palk left his job as a prosecutor in 2011, taking a job as assistant dean of students and assistant general counsel at Oklahoma School of Law.

Palk is the first federal judge the Senate has approved in nearly a month and Republicans have complained about procedural hurdles Democrats have put in place of even uncontroversial Trump nominees.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has previously criticized the so-called blue slip process, an informal procedure that requires both senators from the state in which the judge will serve to sign off before the judge’s nomination can go forward.

Speaking on the Senate floor before the vote on Palk on Thursday, McConnell also criticized Democrats for forcing Republicans to hold votes officially ending debate on judges rather than simply allowing them to move directly to formal confirmation votes.

“We’re not going to let these mindless attempts to slow progress stop us from confirming the president’s nominees to the judiciary,” McConnell said on the Senate floor before the vote. “If that means more cloture votes and more time focused on this task, that’s what we’ll do. But we will confirm these nominees. You can count on it.”

Immediately after approving Palk, the Senate moved on to the nomination of Trevor McFadden, who is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, signaling another judge could be approved in the coming days.

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