Senate Confirms Trump’s First Latino Nominee to Federal Court in Texas

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday unanimously confirmed President Donald Trump’s first Latino judicial nominee to a seat on a federal court in Texas.

Fernando Rodriguez Jr. is currently the Dominican Republic field office director at the International Justice Mission, a group that combats sex trafficking and human rights abuses in developing countries. According to an IJM fact sheet, the group has rescued 110 people from sex trafficking in the Dominican Republica and “restrained” 28 people for related crimes since Rodriguez took over as director of the field office.

Before leading the effort in the Dominican Republican, Rodriguez was in charge of the group’s Bolivia field office from 2010 to 2013.

Rodriguez will now serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, having won approval 96-0 from the Senate Tuesday afternoon.

In response to written questions Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., submitted after Rodriguez’s nomination hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in November, Rodriguez said his work with IJM will make it easier for him to empathize with the poor and less fortunate people who might come into his courtroom.

Rodriguez said the same for the three years he spent working as an elementary school teacher with Teach for America before he attended law school.

“All these experiences enable me to empathize with the vulnerable, the poor and the disadvantaged,” Rodriguez wrote to Whitehouse. “If I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I would seek to make the court accessible to all, and to ensure that the court treats all litigants fairly and impartially. I also believe and hope that my personal history may encourage other young men and women to aspire to help the poor and vulnerable and to understand that individuals can overcome difficult circumstances and backgrounds to achieve personal and professional success.”

Prior to joining IJM, Rodriguez spent more than a decade at the Dallas firm Baker Botts.

Rodriguez was the second judge the Senate confirmed on Tuesday, and the vote on his confirmation came roughly an hour after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced he was canceling most of the Senate’s traditional August recess in part to work on approving more Trump nominees.

“Due to historic obstruction by Senate Democrats of the president’s nominees, and the goal of passing appropriations bills prior to the end of the fiscal year, the August recess has been canceled,” McConnell said in a statement Tuesday. “Senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees.”

While McConnell’s complaints about the slow pace of Trump nominees has typically centered on executive branch positions, he has also repeatedly objected to Democrats forcing procedural votes on even the least controversial of Trump’s judicial picks.

Rodriguez easily cleared such a procedural vote on Tuesday morning, just hours before he was unanimously confirmed to the bench.

Nevertheless, the Republican-controlled Senate has proceeded at a record clip in confirming Trump’s judicial nominees, seating 21 of the president’s selections to federal appeals courts since Trump took office. A report released by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats last month noted it took President Barack Obama 33 months to seat the same number of circuit court judges.

But there has also been widespread speculation that McConnell’s move was part of an effort to keep vulnerable Democrats in Washington and off the campaign trail ahead of the critical 2018 midterm elections.

Despite the open speculation about the political motivations of the move, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Democrats welcome the schedule change as an opportunity to do more legislative work. Schumer also said in a press conference Tuesday he expects Trump will remain in Washington during the canceled recess along with lawmakers.

“We assume he’ll be here in Washington, working right alongside us,” Schumer said at a press conference Tuesday.

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