Senate Panel Approves Seven More Trump Judicial Nominees

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved seven more of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, including four to federal appeals courts.

Eleventh Circuit nominee Justice Britt Grant has served on the Georgia Supreme Court since 2017, when Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal appointed her. Prior to taking a set on the state court bench, Grant served as the state’s solicitor general from 2012 to 2016.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Grant also worked in the Bush White House in several roles from 2001 to 2004 before she attended law school at Stanford.

It was her time as Georgia solicitor general that drew the most questions from senators as she worked through the confirmation process, as Democrats raised concerns about briefs she helped draft and positions she took in court on behalf of the state.

These concerns included her role in drafting a friend of the court brief Georgia joined in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court case that struck down portions of the Voting Rights Act. In the brief, Georgia took the position that the requirement that some states receive pre-clearance for changes to their voting laws was built on outdated data that needed to be updated, a position with which the court eventually agreed.

Georgia also joined a brief in Obergefell v. Hodges, the case that found a constitutional right to marriage, and in the challenge to the Obama administration’s executive action that sought to give protection from deportation to people in the country illegally who have children who are citizens or lawful permanent residents.

Grant repeatedly told senators who asked about these cases that her job as solicitor general was very different than her job as a judge. She said when she reviewed and edited briefs for the state, she was working to represent her client and that the positions the state took did not necessarily square her own views on the issues.

“It’s not my decision what the law should be, it’s my decision to determine what the law is, what the Constitution requires, what the statute requires and how those and other precedents come up with a result in a particular case,” Grant said at her nomination hearing in May. “That’s what I do as a judge and I think it’s very important, as I’ve said, to understand that that’s our role and not a different role. If I wanted to make policy, then I should have run for the state assembly.”

The committee approved her nomination on an 11-10, party-line vote.

The committee also approved David Porter, a Third Circuit nominee who has worked at the Pittsburgh firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney since 1994. A member of the Federalist Society, Porter received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee despite not receiving the approval of Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who said the White House nominated the Pittsburgh lawyer despite Casey clearly stating his objections.

Under the tradition known as the blue slip, home-state senators traditionally must sign off before a nominee is able to receive a hearing, but Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, has said he will not allow a single senator to hold up the nomination of a circuit court judge whose court hears cases from multiple states.

In addition to the controversy over the blue slip, Porter faced questions about articles he wrote around the time the U.S. Supreme Court was considering a challenge to the federal health care law’s individual mandate.

Porter argued the court should strike down the provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requiring most people to purchase health insurance and said the court’s 5-4 decision upholding the law’s constitutionality “sits uneasily with the law’s history, structure and text.”

While lawmakers were skeptical Porter would be able to treat any future arguments that touched on the court’s ruling fairly, Porter promised he would have no trouble applying precedent if confirmed to the Third Circuit.

The committee approved Porter on a party-line 11-10 vote.

The committee also approved two Fourth Circuit nominees Thursday – Judge Marvin Quattlebaum and Julius Richardson.

The Senate confirmed Quattlebaum to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina earlier this year, but Trump re-nominated him in May to a position on the Fourth Circuit.

Quattlebaum’s first pass through the Senate was easy, earning confirmation in a 69-28 vote with most of the opposition coming from Democrats frustrated with Republicans for blocking two of then-President Barack Obama’s nominees from taking the seat.

A partner at the Greenville, S.C. firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough for two decades prior to taking the bench, Quattlebaum faced questions during his second go about his limited experience practicing before appellate courts.

In questions submitted in writing following his nomination hearing, Quattlebaum admitted to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that he has little experience in the appellate system, but said he is familiarizing himself with the circuit by reading opinions “on almost a daily basis” and studying the rules of appellate procedure.

“As with any area of the law I have encountered during my over 25 years of litigation work and my work since becoming a district court judge, I will continue to work hard to stay abreast of the applicable legal principles needed to effectively carry out the duties of a circuit court judge if confirmed,” Quattlebaum wrote.

Quattlebaum cleared the Judiciary Committee 15-6 on Thursday morning.

Richardson, the final circuit court judge the committee approved Thursday, has worked since 2009 as a federal prosecutor in South Carolina and served as the lead prosecutor in the case against Dylann Roof, the self-described white supremacist who killed nine black members of a bible study group at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015.

Roof was found guilty on all charges against him and a judge imposed 18 death sentences in January 2017.

At his nomination hearing in June, Richardson called his experience prosecuting Roof and getting to know the families of the victims “remarkable,” and said he was impressed that the judicial system was able to give a fair hearing to Roof despite the nature of the crimes he committed.

“Even though the defendant in that case was on one end of the virtue spectrum, the rule of law still applied to him equally and the court and the prosecutors and the jury gave him the full protections of the rule of law despite what he had done,” Richardson said at his hearing.

A member of the Federalist Society, Richardson clerked for Justice William Rehnquist on the U.S. Supreme Court and spent three years at the Washington D.C., firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel before becoming a prosecutor.

Richardson easily cleared the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, receiving approval in a 20-1 vote.

The rush of votes on circuit court judges comes after Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., dropped his blockade against Trump’s appeals court nominees last week. Flake’s hold on the nominees stemmed from his opposition to Trump’s tariffs policies and the Senate last week voted on a non-binding resolution calling on the president to get approval from Congress before imposing tariffs for national security reasons.

The committee additionally approved three nominees to federal district courts on Thursday, two to a court in Florida and one to a court in Puerto Rico.

Roy Altman, a partner at the Miami firm Podhurst Orseck who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, was the only federal district court nominee to receive any opposition from senators on Thursday.

In questions submitted in writing after his nomination hearing, Altman faced questions about public statements he made and articles he published regarding hot-button political and legal issues from the Fourth Amendment to the Iran nuclear deal.

In one article, Altman argued a cell phone should not be treated differently than a briefcase when a court considers whether a search was appropriate, “simply as a result of the amount of information they are capable of storing.” When Feinstein asked him about the article, Altman said a recent Supreme Court decisions showed him he was wrong.

“After the Supreme court’s decision in Riley [v. California], it is now clear that the amount of information stored by a cellphone is relevant to a determination of how much protection is afforded by the Fourth Amendment,” Altman wrote. “If I were fortunate enough to be confirmed, I would fairly and faithfully apply this precedent.”

Altman cleared the committee 17-4 on Thursday.

The committee also unanimously approved Jude Rodolfo Ruiz, who is nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, and Raul Arias-Marxuach, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.

All of the judges the committee approved on Thursday must still be voted on by the full Senate before they are confirmed.

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