WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved six of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including three nominated to seats on federal appellate courts.
The most controversial nominee the committee approved on Thursday was Cincinnati lawyer John Nalbandian, Trump’s pick for the Sixth Circuit, who faced opposition from liberal groups with concerns about his work supporting voter identification laws.
Nalbandian wrote a friend of the court brief in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board on behalf of the Center for Equal Opportunity and Project 21 in support of an Indiana voter identification law.
By a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court eventually upheld Indiana’s requirement that all voters show a picture ID before filling out a ballot.
“Those studies have almost universally concluded that voter participation has not been negatively affected by voter identification requirements and that there have not been disparate effects from those identification requirements on certain specific segments of the electorate,” Nalbandian wrote in the brief.
Nalbandian declined to answer when Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked in questions submitted in writing after his nomination hearing if a state legislature has ever passed a discriminatory voter identification law. Nalbandian said such laws are political questions and that the rules government judicial nominees’ behavior during the confirmation process prevented him from weighing in.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a letter to the Judiciary Committee opposing Nalbandian’s nomination, calling into question his work on voter ID laws as well as his ties to conservative political groups like the Federalist Society, of which he is a member.
“Mr. Nalbandian, by contrast, has expressed no regret or remorse about the position he advanced in the Indiana photo ID case,” the letter states. “And in response to post-hearing written questions from Ranking Member [California Sen. Dianne] Feinstein and Senators Durbin and [Delaware Sen. Chris] Coons, he refused to acknowledge that any photo ID laws can have a discriminatory impact, even though such laws in North Carolina and Texas have been struck down by federal courts as violative of the Constitution and Voting Rights Act.”
Nalbandian has worked at the Cincinnati firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister since 2000, first as an associate before rising to partner in 2004. Before moving to Cincinnati, Nalbandian worked at the Washington D.C., firm Jones Day.
Nalbandian cleared the committee on an 11-10, party line vote.
In addition to Nalbandian, the committee unanimously approved two Seventh Circuit nominees, Michael Scudder and Amy St. Eve.
Scudder is a veteran of the Bush administration, having served as general counsel of the National Security Council and senior associate counsel to the president from 2007 to 2009. Before joining the White House, Scudder worked for a year at the Justice Department, serving as counselor to the deputy attorney general.
Like many former Bush administration officials Trump has nominated to serve on federal courts, Scudder faced questions about his involvement in a number of the administration’s most controversial decisions, specifically legal advice he gave in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Scudder told Feinstein he gave the White House advice on amendments Congress made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2007 and 2008 and that he attended a moot court while the Justice Department prepared for oral arguments in Boumediene v. Bush, the case in which the Supreme Court ruled people held in the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba could challenge their detention in federal courts.
Scudder said he was not involved in advising the White House on permissible uses of torture on detainees or in the accusations of torture that came out of Guantanamo Bay.
Before joining the Bush administration, Scudder worked as a federal prosecutor in New York, working cases in New York City from 2002 to 2006.
St. Eve also has experience as a federal prosecutor, having worked in Chicago from 1996 to 2001. She now serves as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.
In 2013, St. Eve presided over a lawsuit brought by an 87-year-old woman who sued Trump over her agreement for a condo in Trump tower, ruling in favor of the future president but chastising him during contentious testimony, according to the Chicago Tribune.
St. Eve was also involved with Independent Counsel Ken Starr’s investigation into real estate investments by then-President Bill Clinton and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton. St. Eve helped earn convictions of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Clinton financial partners Susan and James McDougal.
Feinstein asked St. Eve why Susan McDougal claimed James agreed to cooperate with Starr “as a favor” to St. Eve, saying during the trial that St. Eve offered to help James write his memoir. St. Eve said she never discussed such a deal with McDougal, telling Feinstein she has “no idea” why Susan McDougal made the comments.
The committee also approved a trio of nominees to positions on federal district courts, including Dominic Lanza, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona and was recently involved in the federal government’s takedown of Backpage.com.
Lanza has served as a federal prosecutor in Arizona since 2008, having previously worked at the Los Angeles firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher from 2003 to 2008. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said at Thursday’s meeting that Lanza “coordinated” with law enforcement on the raid of the homes of Backpage.com founders Michael Lacey and Jim Larkin earlier this month.
The federal government shut down Backpage.com on April 6 after accusing its founders of being complicit in alleged sex trafficking that took place on the website.
Lanza was also part of the team that prosecuted the man who murdered six people and injured 13 others, including former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, outside of a Tucson, Ariz., grocery store in 2011.
A member of the Federalist Society, Lanza faced questions during his confirmation process about his work representing large companies, including working on a team of lawyers for General Motors during a lawsuit California brought seeking compensation for money it had to spend to combat climate change from auto emissions.
Lanza was the most contentious of the district court nominees, clearing the committee in a 16-5 vote.
Kari Dooley, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut, and Charles Williams, nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Iowa, fared better, receiving approval on 19-2 votes.
All of the nominees will now go before full Senate, which must confirm them before they are able to take the bench.