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Senate confirms Idaho’s first female federal judge

Lawmakers had to reach across the aisle to approve the appointment of Amanda Brailsford, given Democrats' tenuous hold on the chamber majority.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In what has become a rare show of bipartisanship on the Biden administration’s efforts to fill federal court vacancies, the Senate confirmed Amanda Brailsford on Thursday to the U.S. District Court in Boise.

Brailsford, whose nomination cleared the upper chamber’s judiciary committee just last week, sailed through the Senate on a voice vote — a move that indicated lawmakers’ unanimous support for her appointment. The Idaho native will replace U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill, making her the first woman to serve as a federal judge in the Gem State.

Democrats on the Senate judiciary panel, responsible for advancing such nominees, applauded Brailsford’s confirmation in a tweet Thursday: “Judge Brailsford is highly experienced in both criminal and civil law matters, earning her unanimous support by the full Senate.”

Idaho's two Republican Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch both signed off on Brailsford’s nomination via a process known in the Senate as blue slipping.

Thanks in part to that strong Republican support, Brailsford’s committee report also passed on a voice vote, making her one of the only Biden administration nominees to get through Congress in such fashion.

Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thanked the Idaho Republicans last week for working with the Biden administration to advance a qualified District Court nominee, and urged other GOP lawmakers to follow suit.

“I plead with my colleagues to make a good faith effort to sit down and see if they can reach an agreement with the White House on nominees,” Durbin said.

It has been even more important than usual for Democrats to reach across the aisle on judicial nominees in recent weeks amid the monthslong absence of Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the judiciary panel’s most senior members. Feinstein, 89, has been recovering from a case of shingles in her home state of California since February.

Feinstein’s absence has made its impact in particular on the Judiciary Committee, which has held off votes on some White House nominees that Democrats anticipate will face Republican obstruction. An effort to replace the lawmaker temporarily was scuttled last month by Senate GOP, who argued it would give Democrats license to ram through more controversial appointments.

Brailsford’s appointment speaks not only to bipartisanship but to the District of Idaho, according to Carl Tobias, chair of the University of Richmond School of Law.

“Judge Brailsford had one of the smoothest, quickest confirmations of all Biden nominees,” Tobias said in an interview. “That is critical for the District of Idaho, because Congress only authorizes two active judgeships for the state.”

As a state with a rapidly growing population — and an increasing case volume — Idaho has been feeling the pressure in its federal courts system, Tobias added. Boise’s congressional delegation has been pushing to add another seat to its panel of judges.

Tobias characterized Brailsford as an experienced, mainstream nominee and credited Senators Crapo and Risch for their cooperation with the Biden administration to find what he called a consensus candidate. “Her confirmation will be valuable for the court, its judges and staff litigants in the district and the people of Idaho,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Senate on Thursday confirmed another of the Biden administration’s judicial nominees, voting 56-41 to confirm federal bankruptcy Judge LaShonda Hunt for an open seat at the Northern District of Illinois.

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