WASHINGTON (CN) – One month into Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch’s tenure, the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved its second judicial nomination under President Donald Trump.
By an 11-8 party-line vote the committee sent the nomination of Sixth Circuit nominee Amul Thapar to the Senate floor. The full Senate will still need to approve Thapar, whom Trump called up in March from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit meets in Cincinnati, hearing cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.
All Republicans on the committee voted for Thapar, praising his sterling conservative record and disputing claims by Democrats that the judge tended to rule in favor of the wealthy and powerful over regular people.
“His decade-long record speaks for itself,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley said before the committee voted on the nomination. “He faithfully applies the law, does equal right for rich and poor. He’ll make a fine Sixth Circuit judge and I’m pleased to support him.”
Like many votes on Trump nominees, no Democrat supported Thapar. The only Democrat who serves on the committee who did not vote against Thapar was Sen. Mazie Hirono. Having announced her kidney cancer diagnosis a day earlier, Hirono who did not register a vote in either direction.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the committee, expressed specific concerns about a ruling from Thapar that struck down Kentucky’s prohibitions against judges making political contributions. Feinstein criticized the opinion, which relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, repeating her belief that money and speech are not the same.
“It is untraceable dark money, after all, that enables secretive organizations to flood the airwaves with multimillion dollar campaigns,” Feinstein said at the hearing.
Sen. Dick Durbin made a similar argument, though he based his vote against the judge on Thapar’s connection to the Federalist Society — one of the conservative groups that helped compile the list of potential Supreme Court nominees from which Trump chose Gorsuch.
Democrats made the group’s influence on Republican judicial selections a critical point in their opposition to Gorsuch.
Grassley anticipated Durbin’s argument when making his opening statement at the hearing, pre-emptively noting that Democrats have their own outside groups to advocate for liberal causes and appointees.
“Outside groups and dark money are old plays in a worn-out playbook,” Grassley said at the hearing. “When you hear the play, it sounds like outside groups exist on only one side. But like I said it’s outside groups making their complaints about Judge Thapar.”