Panel Advances 17 Trump Judge Picks to Full Senate

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced the nominations of 17 of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including a Ninth Circuit pick who faced questions about his ties to California.

A photo of Ninth Circuit nominee Daniel Bress is overlaid with an image of the James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco, home of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (Courthouse photo by Ernest McGray/AP)

Daniel Bress received approval from the committee with a 12-10 vote, over the objections of Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both California Democrats, who said Bress does not have close enough ties to California to occupy one of the state’s seats on the Ninth Circuit.

“It’s not a debate about whether his views are within the legal mainstream or what his opinions are on various issues,” Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said Thursday. “This is a factual discussion about whether he is a California attorney and the facts are clear he is not.”

Specific seats on the federal appeals courts are generally reserved for specific states within the circuit, but the practice is a tradition and not a legal requirement.

A former clerk to the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Bress is a partner at the firm Kirkland & Ellis. The firm’s website lists Bress as a member of both its Washington, D.C., and San Francisco offices, but Bress told the committee he lives in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of the District.

Bress was born in Hollister, California, but attended Harvard College and the University of Virginia School of Law. He spent a year as an associate at the San Francisco firm Munger, Tolles & Olson, before joining Kirkland & Ellis in Washington.

Other than the year he practiced in San Francisco, Bress’ only time spent working in California since leaving for Harvard in 1997 were the summers of 2003 and 2004, when he worked as a judicial extern on the California Supreme Court and as a summer associate at a San Francisco law firm.

Bress told the Judiciary Committee he moved to Washington for his wife’s career and that he continues to routinely practice in Golden State courts. He said he has represented 15 clients in California courts and played a role in 15 other litigation efforts in the state and that much of the time he spends working from Washington is on litigation in California.

Overall, Bress said he has handled roughly 30 arguments in the state’s courts and has been part of other court proceedings in California as well.  He said he has spent more than two months in California over the past year.

“I regularly travel to California for work and family-related reasons and spend extended periods of time there in the winter and summer with my family,” Bress said in response to questions submitted in writing after his nomination hearing.

Republicans defended Bress’ nomination, saying there are other examples of judges with records similar to Bress’ taking seats on federal appeals courts. Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, specifically pointed to Justice Neil Gorsuch, who spent a career in Washington before taking a Colorado seat on the 10th Circuit.

“I am convinced, and I’m sorry Senator Feinstein is not, that this is well within the mainstream of what we’ve done with circuit judges in the past,” Graham said Thursday.

The committee spent Thursday advancing Trump’s nominees to seats on courts in blue states, including seven nominees to federal courts in New York, three to seats on courts in Illinois and one each to seats on courts in Maryland and Rhode Island. Trump picked all of the nominees in these states last Congress and they all advanced through the committee last year.

The committee also advanced the nominations of Jason Pulliam, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, Stephanie Davis, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Michigan, and U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia nominee Frank Volk.

In addition, the committee advanced the nomination of David Tapp, who is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

All of the nominees now await confirmation votes before the full Senate.

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