WASHINGTON (CN) - The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved eight of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees, including one who is up for a seat on the Eighth Circuit and received a not qualified rating from the American Bar Association.
During his nomination process, Democrats raised questions about the experience and qualifications of Eighth Circuit nominee Jonathan Kobes, who works as general counsel to Senator Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
Kobes has worked for Rounds since 2014, having spent time as in-house counsel to several companies starting in 2008. Prior to that Kobes worked as an associate at the Sioux Falls, S.D., firm Murphy, Goldammer & Prendergast and also spent time as a federal prosecutor in South Dakota.
Kobes told the committee during his confirmation hearing he has handled six trials to verdict, with four of those coming as a federal prosecutor. Though he faced questions about this relatively limited time in the courtroom, Kobes insisted his career has given him valuable diversity of experience and allowed him to work in all three branches of government.
"Senator, I've been practicing law for approximately 18 years now and I've been asking myself over the course of this process, would I be better qualified had I stayed in private practice, for example, for 18 years, or had I stayed at the U.S. Attorney's Office for 18 years," Kobes said at his nomination hearing in August. "And I think obviously I would have tried more cases, I would have handled more depositions, but I also would have missed out on a lot of what my career has afforded me."
A "substantial majority" of the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary rated Kobes not qualified, the sixth Trump nominee to receive such a rating. In a letter to the committee in September, the ABA explained a majority of the standing committee rated Kobes not qualified because he did not turn over enough writings to shed light on his abilities.
"The standing committee had difficulty analyzing Kobes' professional competence because he was unable to provide sufficient writing samples of the caliber required to satisfy committee members he was capable of doing the work of a United States circuit court judge," Paul Moxley, a standing committee member, wrote in a letter to the Judiciary Committee.
But Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, on Thursday said Kobes could not turn over many writing samples to the ABA because the work he did as in-house counsel cannot be public like the briefs attorneys file in court or the opinions judges hand down from the bench.
He added presidents should not be restricted to nominating only attorneys who spend their lives in the courtroom to fill judicial vacancies.
"It would be detrimental to our judiciary if we only permitted litigators as opposed to the equally important and competent attorneys who advise clients on a range of legal issues to join the appellate bench," Grassley said.
Grassley and Republicans on the committee have downplayed the ABA's ratings of judicial nominees, noting the group also found Eighth Circuit Judge Steven Grasz not qualified last year. Grassley said the ratings for the Eighth Circuit nominees carry the tinge of political bias.
But Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and other committee Democrats said Kobes is another example of the Trump administration nominating someone to the bench who is not prepared to do the work.