Senate Panel Advances Three Trump Nominees for Federal Courts

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved three of President Donald Trump’s nominees to federal district courts, including two to seats on courts in Ohio.

Judge Matthew McFarland. (Photo via Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals)

The only nominees to face opposition from Democrats were the nominees from Ohio, including Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals Judge Matthew McFarland, who cleared the committee on a 12-10 party-line vote.

McFarland has been a judge on the state appellate court since 2004, and spent the five years before that as a magistrate on the Scioto County Common Pleas Court. He has also worked in private practice and spent time as a county prosecutor in Ohio.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, McFarland was nominated after being recommended by a bipartisan judicial search commission assembled by Ohio Senators Rob Portman, a Republican, and Sherrod Brown, a Democrat.

The abortion rights group NARAL has opposed McFarland in part because he stated in his 2004 campaign for his appeals court seat that he was a member of a pro-life organization in Ohio. A 2004 article in the Athens News described McFarland’s campaign literature as stating he is an “avid Second Amendment supporter and a member of his county’s Right to Life group.”

McFarland initially misstated the length of his membership in the Scioto County Right to Life group in his Judiciary Committee questionnaire, but later corrected the document to show he was a member from 1997 to 2004. He told the committee the omission was nothing more than a “clerical error.”

Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., wondered how, given the comment from his 2004 campaign, litigants could be confident they would get a fair hearing from McFarland if he were confirmed to the bench. McFarland insisted to Booker that his lengthy time on the Ohio appeals court, and as a magistrate judge before that, have prepared him for just such a task.

“My 19-year record on the bench has demonstrated a commitment to fairness and impartiality to all, I have not allowed any personal views to impact my judicial decisions,” McFarland wrote in response to questions submitted after his nomination hearing. “I will continue to do the same to all individuals that may appear before me if I am confirmed.”

If confirmed by the full Senate, McFarland would sit on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

Former Ohio State Solicitor Douglas Cole, who is nominated to serve on the same court as McFarland, received bipartisan approval from the committee, heading to the Senate floor on a 16-6 vote. Cole served as Ohio’s state solicitor from 2003 to 2006 before becoming a partner at the Columbus, Ohio, firm Jones Day. He currently works as a partner at the Columbus firm Organ Cole.

Like other Trump nominees who came to the Senate after being in Republican state governments, Cole faced questions about positions he took in court on behalf of Ohio.  Democrats particularly objected to his work in 2006 defending an Ohio law that required women to meet with a doctor at least one day before having an abortion.

Also like other Trump appointees with a similar background, Cole explained his job was to defend the laws of the state that employed him, and that the position he took in the case did not necessarily represent his personal views.

“As the state solicitor for Ohio, I had an obligation to present any reasonable and lawful argument that I could in support of the constitutionality of the statute at issue, which had been passed by Ohio’s General Assembly and signed by Ohio’s governor,” Cole wrote in response to questions submitted after his nomination hearing. “The views expressed in the brief represent advocacy on behalf of my client, the state of Ohio, and do not necessarily represent my personal views.”

The final federal district court judge to clear the committee Thursday was Kea Riggs, who is nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. A judge on the New Mexico Fifth Judicial District Court, Riggs received unanimous support from the committee.

Before taking her current position in 2014, Riggs served from 2001 to 2014 as a part-time U.S. magistrate judge on the court to which she is now nominated. She also previously worked as an associate at the firm Sanders, Bruin, Coll & Worley and as a state prosecutor.

In addition to the federal district court nominees, the committee also approved Judge Robert Anthony Molloy, a nominee to a court in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Molloy has served as a judge on the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands since 2016, having previously spent time as an assistant attorney general in the Virgin Islands government.

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