WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Thursday approved President Donald Trump’s first federal appeals court nominee, overcoming opposition from Democrats who believe the president is determined to tilt the philosophical-leaning of the federal judiciary to the right.
Amul Thapar, the first American of South-Asian heritage to serve as a federal judge, will now take a seat on the Sixth Circuit after a 52-44 vote in the Senate Thursday afternoon.
He currently serves as a federal judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Thapar’s was the second judicial nomination President Trump sent to the Senate for approval. His first was Neil Gorsuch, who was confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court on April 7.
“Judge Thapar will make an outstanding addition to the U.S. Appeals Court for the Sixth Circuit,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor shortly before Thursday’s vote.
“He will fairly apply the law to all who enter his courtroom because, in Judge Thapar’s own words, ‘the most important attribute of a judge is to be open-minded and not to prejudge a case without reading the briefs, researching the law and hearing from the parties,” McConnell said.
The Senate Judiciary Committee approved Thapar last week by an 11-8, party-line vote, with Democrats expressing concern about his ties to the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that has been deeply involved in helping Trump select his judicial appointments.
Democrats also criticized Thapar’s ruling in a case that struck down Kentucky prohibitions on judges making political contributions.
Thapar’s opinion in the case drew heavily from the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizen’s United, a case of which Democrats have been loudly critical for years.
“It is untraceable dark money, after all, that enables secretive organizations to flood the airwaves with multimillion dollar campaigns,” Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said before the Senate Judiciary Committee vote last week.
Thapar was a law clerk to U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel, of the Southern District of Ohio, from 1994 to 1996, and law clerk to U.S. Circuit Judge Nathaniel Jones of the Sixth Circuit, from 1996 to 1997.
Thapar was an attorney with the Washington DC law firm of Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. from 1997 to 1999, and after that was a trial advocacy instructor in the Georgetown University Law Center from 1999 to 2000.
He also was an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, DC from 1999 to 2000.
Thapar returned to private practice in 2001, joining the Squire, Sanders & Dempsey firm in Cincinnati. But his stay in private practice was short-lived. In 2002, he returned to the U.S. Attorney’s office as an assistant in the Southern District of Ohio, and then, in 2006, was named U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
Former President George W. Bush nominated him to be a federal court judge and the American Bar Association rated him well-qualified for the post. The Senate confirmed him by a voice vote on Dec. 13, 2007.
In September 2016, then-candidate Trump included Thapar in a second list of individuals he would consider as potential future Supreme Court justices.
President Trump has eight other judicial nominees pending before the Senate Judiciary Committee. All are likely to face opposition from Democrats.