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Senate Narrowly Confirms Fifth Circuit Nominee

The Senate on Wednesday narrowly confirmed an attorney in the Texas governor's office to a position on the Fifth Circuit.

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate on Wednesday narrowly confirmed an attorney in the Texas governor's office to a position on the Fifth Circuit.

Andrew Oldham currently serves as general counsel to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, having previously worked as the state's deputy solicitor general. That position put Oldham at the center of a number of high-profile legal disputes touching on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to immigration.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Oldham was the top lawyer on Texas' challenge to the Obama administration action extending protections from deportation to people in the country illegally who had children who were citizens or legal permanent residents. The program, known as DAPA, never went into effect after a federal court injunction.

Oldham also worked on challenges to Obama-era environmental regulations and joined a friend of the court brief on behalf of Texas in the Supreme Court case that struck down a provision of the Voting Rights Act.

During his nomination hearing in April, Oldham explained to senators that he took the positions he did in court not necessarily because he personally agreed with them, but because it was his job as an advocate for the state to do so.

"Those are fundamentally very, very different jobs," Oldham told the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. "The role of an advocate is to zealously advocate for a client's position, to serve a client's interests even when they're different from the advocate's. The role of a jurist is fundamentally different."

Supporters of Oldham say he is a capable, hard-working lawyer who is qualified for a seat on the appellate court despite his young age. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a speech on the Senate floor just before Wednesday's vote that Oldham "represents the best of what Texas' legal community has to offer to our federal courts."

"He is devoted to the practice of law and over the years Andy has displayed a keen understanding of the Constitution, how it applies and guides us to this very day," Cruz said. "I am confident that Andy will not substitute his own policy preferences, his own opinions for the rule of law, but he will instead serve the people of Texas and the American people by respecting the law as written - as written in the Constitution and as written in federal law passed by this Congress and signed by the president."

But some have raised questions about his work in the courtroom, saying it will be hard for him to so easily abandon the positions he argued in court when he moves to the other side of the bench.

Austin, Texas criminal defense attorney Joseph Turner worked against Oldham during the appeal of Colton Pitonyak, who was convicted of murdering Jennifer Cave in 2005 in a crime that became the subject of the true crime novel "A Descent Into Hell." Turner said Oldham's work in that case leads him to believe he will give more weight to the government as a judge.

"He hasn't proven to me, let's put it that way, that he's going to give criminal defendants a fair shot," Turner said in an interview shortly after Oldham cleared the Judiciary Committee.

Oldham cleared the Senate on a 50-49 vote Wednesday afternoon. He is the second circuit court judge the Senate has confirmed since Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., threatened to block President Donald Trump's appeals court picks over his opposition to the president's tariffs policy.

Flake held up the confirmation of nominees to federal appeals courts for weeks in the Senate, with only Ninth Circuit nominee Mark Bennett receiving approval on the back of unanimous support from Democrats that made the Arizona Republican's vote unnecessary for confirmation.

The Senate last week approved a non-binding resolution requiring Trump to receive approval from Congress before imposing tariffs on national security grounds. Flake dropped his hold on Trump's judges following the vote.

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