WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Tuesday confirmed two of President Donald Trump’s nominees to seats on federal appellate courts, one narrowly to the Sixth Circuit and the other to the 10th Circuit by an overwhelming margin.
John Nalbandian, a partner at the Cincinnati firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister who will take a seat on the Sixth Circuit, faced numerous questions from Democrats and liberal groups during his nomination process about his work defending voter identification laws in court.
Nalbandian authored a friend of the court brief in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a case in which the Supreme Court voted 6-3 to uphold an Indiana law that required voters to present a photo ID before casting a ballot.
Nalbandian penned the brief supporting the law for the Center for Equal Opportunity and Project 21 and in it cited studies that claimed the requirement did not harm voter participation.
“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 o the electorate,” the brief states.
When pressed about such laws in questions senators submitted after his nomination hearing in March, Nalbandian declined to say whether a state has ever passed a discriminatory voter identification law.
“The adoption of voter ID laws is a political and public policy question and it would be inappropriate for me under the judicial canons to opine that issue,” Nalbandian wrote. “If I were presented with arguments regarding voter ID laws in a case as a judge, I would review the arguments of the parties and apply all applicable law and precedent to the facts of the case.”
In a statement Tuesday, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights president and CEO Vanita Gupta condemned Nalbandian’s confirmation.
“John Nalbandian is a partisan and ideological lawyer whose sustained loyalty to ultra conservative interest groups demonstrates that he is not fit to be an impartial federal judge,” Gupta said in the statement. “His history of defending discriminatory photo ID laws and other barriers to voting shows that if confirmed he will not uphold crucial civil and human rights laws.”
A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Nalbandian also faced questions about his history working with the Republican party, with Democrats raising concerns that he would bring partisanship to the federal bench. Nalbandian served as general counsel to the Republican Party of Kentucky from 2010 to 2016, giving advice to the campaigns of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both Kentucky Republicans.
Nalbandian also served as an alternate delegate to the 2008 and 2012 Republican National Convention and as a delegate to the 2016 convention in Cleveland. When asked about his work for Republicans, Nalbandian told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., he learned from Fifth Circuit Judge Jerry Smith, for whom he clerked, how to put aside party politics on the bench.
“There are no Democratic and no Republican judges as far as I’m concerned,” Nalbandian wrote. “I realize that being a judge is completely different than being an advocate or participating in political activity. I pledge that I would be, consistent with the judicial oath and the canons of judicial ethics, impartial and fair to all litigants and would set aside my personal and political views on any topic.”
Before joining Taft Stettinius & Hollister in 2000, Nalbandian worked as an associate at the Washington D.C., firm Jones Day.
President Barack Obama nominated Nalbandian to serve on the board of the State Justice Institute in 2010, with the Senate confirming him to the nonprofit’s Senate-confirmed board of directors by a voice vote.
He cleared the Senate 53-45 on Tuesday.
Speaking on the Senate floor on Tuesday, McConnell praised Nalbandian as a qualified lawyer with widespread respect and support in Kentucky.
“John Nalbandian has the impressive credentials, the preparation, the broad support – every indication that he’ll be a worthy and capable judge,” McConnell said on the Senate floor before the vote.
Joel Carson, a part time U.S. magistrate judge the Senate confirmed to the 10th Circuit on Tuesday, faced less opposition during his confirmation process, earning approval from the full Senate in a 77-21 vote.
Carson has been a partner at the Roswell, N.M., firm Carson Ryan since 2014, having previously worked as general counsel at Mack Energy Corporation.
Democrats and liberal groups were skeptical of Carson’s history representing energy companies during his time in private practice. Carson in 2014 filed a friend of the court brief urging a federal court to strike down a local ban on fracking and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., asked him in written questions submitted after his nomination hearing why he referred to the local governments that passed the regulations as “activist” in the brief.
Carson explained the argument in the brief was that the laws the local governments passed encroached into an area over which the state government has clear authority, noting the federal court agreed with his contention.
Nalbandian and Carson are the third and fourth appellate court judges the Senate has confirmed in the last two days, following new Seventh Circuit Judges Michael Scudder and Amy St. Eve, both of whom the Senate unanimously confirmed Monday evening.