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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Partisan slugfest ensues in Senate Judiciary over Biden appellate nominees

Republicans, complaining about lack of White House cooperation on judicial appointments, tore into a pair of the administration’s circuit court picks — criticism some Democrats labeled as bad faith.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans on Thursday torched two White House nominees for federal appellate courts and traded barbs with their Democratic colleagues during a tense confirmation hearing.

The pair of nominees — Karla Campbell, tapped for the Sixth Circuit, and Julia Lipez, nominated to the First Circuit — faced sharp questioning from lawmakers who argued their past affiliations and decision records made them unsuitable for the federal bench.

But Republicans, particularly Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, were also upset with what they said was the Biden administration’s refusal to consult with them on circuit court nominees who would preside over cases in red states.

If confirmed to the Sixth Circuit, Campbell’s jurisdiction would include Tennessee.

“This is the fourth time they have disregarded Tennessee senators and thereby the people in our state,” said Blackburn, who said she would oppose the nominee.

While the Senate used to allow home state senators to object to appellate nominees under an age-old process known as blue slipping, Republicans abandoned that practice for U.S. circuit courts under the Trump administration. Under the Democratic majority, leadership has honored blue slips for U.S. district court nominees, but the blockade for appellate judgeships remains.

Blackburn said Thursday that she wasn’t looking for a blue slip, though — even as Democrats have expressed interest in returning to the practice for U.S. circuit court nominees.

“I’m not asking for veto power, or even my preferred nominee,” she said. “I’m asking for the constitutional instruction of advice and consent in the process, just like the framers intended.”

The Tennessee senator has previously complained about what she called “backroom deals” in the White House to nominate appellate judges without consent from the Volunteer State’s Senate delegation. Blackburn in April balked at a similar scenario involving Sixth Circuit nominee Kevin Ritz.

A spokesperson for the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But Vermont Senator Peter Welch, who briefly chaired the Judiciary Committee Thursday in the absence of Senator Dick Durbin, argued that Tennessee senators rejected overtures from the White House to cooperate on nominations.

Carl Tobias, chair of the University of Richmond School of Law, told Courthouse News that Blackburn’s staff has interviewed all of the candidates nominated by the White House for court vacancies in Tennessee.

Absent complaints about the provenance of Thursday’s nominees, Republicans made it clear that they were uniformly opposed to both Campbell and First Circuit nominee Lipez, whom lawmakers accused of having a light sentencing record.

In one particularly fiery exchange, Texas Senator Ted Cruz accused Campbell of being a “political activist,” pointing to her work as a legal adviser to the Nashville-based labor organizing group Workers’ Dignity.

“This is an openly Marxist organization,” fumed the Texas senator. “This is a communist organization.”

Workers’ Dignity describes itself as an organization led by low-wage workers which believes that “transforming society requires working-class people of all races, ages and walks of life to build resilient and democratic organizations capable of disrupting strategic institutions and industries.” The group educates workers on their labor rights and fights against issues such as wage theft and workplace abuse.

Campbell acknowledged Thursday that she had advised Workers’ Dignity but pointed out that it had been more than a decade since she’d been affiliated with the organization and that she only worked with them for a handful of years.

“I served on an advisory board that helped what at the time was supposed to be a nonprofit workers’ rights organization get set up and get started,” she told lawmakers, adding that she had not been involved with the group recently because “they have strayed into the political sphere, rather than staying with their original mission to support workers.”

But Republicans accused Campbell of lying about her work with Workers’ Dignity, noting that her profile on attorney rating site Avvo suggests she worked for the organization from 2013 to the present.

“You’ve lied to us up and down on this committee,” Missouri Senator Josh Hawley said.

Avvo, established in 2018, is a third-party database that scrapes publicly available records from state bars and other sources. Attorneys do not appear to be able to freely edit information scraped by the service.

A spokesperson for Avvo did not immediately return a request for comment.

Lawmakers also took aim at Campbell for making a campaign donation to Tennessee House candidate Odessa Kelly, who ran unsuccessfully in 2022 to unseat current Representative Mark Green.

Republicans dialed in on some of Kelly’s statements on the campaign trail, including a March 2022 Tweet in which she wrote that several GOP politicians including Judiciary Committee ranking member Senator Lindsey Graham “are obviously aligned with the Devil.”

Campbell distanced herself from those remarks, saying that Campbell was a neighbor and that she was being “neighborly” by donating to her campaign.

Democrats, meanwhile, were unimpressed with their colleagues’ line of questioning. Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, pointed out that it was unreasonable to suggest the nominee was unqualified because of the actions or statements of others.

“How many of us as United States senators … would be like to held accountable for every aspect of the [party’s] platform because we’re members of the party?” Durbin argued. “When it gets right down to it, if I don’t say it or I don’t’ write it I shouldn’t be held accountable for it.”

The committee chair accused Republicans of pursuing a double standard against Biden court nominees.

Tobias, meanwhile, observed that committee Republicans have become “increasingly aggressive” when questioning the White House’s appellate nominees. He pointed out that, in addition to interrupting and talking over nominees, GOP lawmakers have pursued a policy of “guilt by association.”

“All these phenomena were on display with Karla Campbell,” said Tobias.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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