Senate Confirms Two Federal Judges, Adding to Trump Judicial Legacy

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate confirmed two more Trump appointees to the federal bench Wednesday in a final push to cement the lame-duck president’s reshaping of the judiciary.

Katherine Crytzer was confirmed in a 48-47 vote to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee left open after the death of Chief Judge Pamela L. Reeves, an Obama appointee and the first woman to serve on the federal bench in that district.    

Crytzer and Joseph Dawson III, confirmed later Wednesday, mark 232 federal judges appointed by President Donald Trump, the second most of any president near the end of their first term. Only Jimmy Carter had more, 260, at this point in his single term.  

Following Reeves, Crytzer will be just the second woman to be seated on the court. She began working as a law clerk to Eighth Circuit Judge Raymond Gruender in 2009. After that, she delved into private practice work with Washington-based firm Kirkland & Ellis.

From 2014 to 2017, Crytzer worked as the assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Kentucky. She then moved to the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy, where she began as chief of staff before being promoted to principal deputy assistant attorney general. She was also the managing editor of the George Mason University Law Review for a short time.

Crytzer is a member of the conservative Federalist Society, a legal group that has had a hand in almost all of Trump’s court nominations, including his latest Supreme Court nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

In response to a questionnaire from Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, Crytzer indicated she had been a member of the group since 2008. When asked if she had any conversations with Federalist Society members about her nomination, she said she only told her friends and family about her potential new job.  

“I understand that some of those individuals are members of the Federalist Society, but to my knowledge, I have not discussed my nomination with anyone employed by the Federalist Society,” Crytzer wrote.

Feinstein also asked about the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion rights decision in Roe v. Wade and whether Crytzer considered it to be “super-precedent” for all lower courts to follow. She responded that if confirmed, she would faithfully apply the court’s reasoning, noting “judges are bound by all applicable Supreme Court precedent.”

Feinstein had also pressed the nominee on her role in advising the Trump administration on judicial nominees, specifically whether she recommended potential appointees not answer questions concerning whether Brown vs. Board of Education, which struck down racial segregation in schools, was properly decided.

“My primary role at the Office of Legal Policy was not to prepare nominees for Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, however, each judicial [nominee] decides for herself or himself how to answer any question presented,” Crytzer wrote.

Answering questions from Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, Crytzer reiterated her disassociation with judicial nomination processes at the Justice Department.

“During my time as both principal deputy assistant attorney general and chief of staff of OLP, my job duties included managing the various workstreams and operation of staff in the office,” she wrote. “As such, as a general matter, my substantive involvement in judicial nominations work has been limited, with the exception of my work on the confirmation of Justices Brett M. Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett.”

The Senate also confirmed Dawson to be United States District Judge for the District of South Carolina in a 56-39 vote Wednesday. Dawson is a former military member, serving in both the Army’s reserve unit in Missouri as a Judge Advocate General and in South Carolina’s National Guard in the same position.

Dawson also has experience working for the South Carolina’s Attorney General’s Office, becoming a law clerk at the firm in 1995. The majority of Dawson’s career has been spent at the Charleston County Attorney’s Office, where he first began in 1997 as an assistant county attorney before moving up to county attorney.

Responding to a Senate questionnaire, Dawson said he reached out to Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, expressing interest in federal judicial service. Soon after, he got a call from someone at the White House Counsel’s Office gauging his interest for a judicial appointment.

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