Senators Confirm 12 New Judges Ahead of Holiday Break

WASHINGTON (CN) — On the heels of a House vote to impeach President Donald Trump, the Senate confirmed a dozen of his nominees for seats on federal courts across the country.

The package of judges the Senate confirmed Thursday ahead of an end-of-year recess had bipartisan support for the most part.

The U.S. Capitol is seen at the end of the day on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

One exception was Daniel Traynor, a longtime attorney in Devils Lake, North Dakota, who will take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.

Traynor faced questions during his confirmation process about political tweets he posted supporting Republicans, including Trump, and attacking Democrats. Some of the tweets were fiery, including one during the 2016 election in which he wrote Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton “lies so much,” accompanied by the hashtag #SheCantTellTheTruth.

Democrats asked whether he would recuse himself from cases touching on partisan politics, but Traynor did not commit to doing so, saying he will simply follow the guidelines for when federal judges should remove themselves from cases.

“If confirmed, I will make every effort to ensure that all parties in my courtroom are treated fairly, equally and impartially regardless of political affiliation or lack thereof,” Traynor wrote in response to questions submitted in writing after his nomination hearing.

Traynor was confirmed to the seat with a 51-41 vote on Thursday afternoon.

Raag Singhal, who was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida with a 76-17 vote, has served as a state circuit court judge in Florida since 2011. Before taking the state bench, Singhal worked in private practice in Fort Lauderdale and as a state prosecutor in Florida’s Broward County.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Singhal told senators he tends to approach cases with a textualist view of the law, though he declined to label himself an originalist.

In one 2018 opinion, Singhal appeared to raise concerns about Supreme Court precedents under which courts are generally deferential when considering agency interpretations of ambiguous regulations, referring to those doctrines as the high court’s “long-standing abdication of judicial responsibility by punting important decisions to administrative agencies.”

Skepticism of the judicial deference doctrines, which conservatives have long criticized as giving too much power to administrative agencies, is a common theme among Trump nominees.

The Senate also overwhelmingly confirmed longtime federal prosecutor Karen Marston to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Marston has served as a prosecutor in Philadelphia since 2006, holding the same job in North Carolina from 2000 until she left for Pennsylvania.

She has been the chief of her office’s narcotics and organized crime team since 2018 and told senators she has handled 35 jury trials during her career, with the overwhelming majority going to verdict. She was confirmed 87-6.

Also earning confirmation to seats on federal courts in Pennsylvania were John Gallagher, who will sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Robert Colville, who will serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Gallagher is a longtime prosecutor, beginning in 1994 when he took a job in the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office. He later did the same job in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, before becoming a federal prosecutor in New Mexico from 2001 to 2003. He has been a prosecutor in Philadelphia since 2004 and also heads the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Allentown branch.

A former New York City police officer, Gallagher also spent a year at the Justice Department as a White House fellow and counsel to the attorney general from 2000 to 2001. He was confirmed 83-9.

With a 66-27 vote, Colville will take his seat nearly five years after he was first nominated by President Barack Obama. Like many of Obama’s nominees at the end of his term, Colville languished for a year and a half in the Senate and never received a vote.

Colville has been a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, since 2000 and also works as an adjunct professor at LaRoche College in Pittsburgh.

After a 75-17 vote, Oklahoma City attorney Jodi Dishman will take a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Dishman has worked as a shareholder at the Oklahoma City firm McAfee & Taft since 2014, spending the two years before that as counsel at the firm. She has been on the board of officers and directors for the Oklahoma City chapter of the Federal Bar Association since 2012.

She also worked at the San Antonio, Texas, firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld from 2007 to 2012 and clerked for Judges Edward Prado and Carolyn King on the Fifth Circuit.

Fellow Oklahoman Bernard Jones will join Dishman on the court after a 91-3 vote. Jones has been a magistrate judge on the U.S. District court for the Western District of Oklahoma since 2015 and served as a state judge before that. He also spent time as the associate dean for admissions at the Oklahoma City University School of Law and as an associate at McAfee & Taft.

A trio of the nominees will take spots on courts in New York, part of a long-delayed package of nominees to courts in the state.

Mary Kay Vyskocil has served as a bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of New York since 2016, after spending more than three decades at the New York City firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. She will be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York after a 91-3 vote.

Joining her on the court will be Lewis Liman, who has been a partner at the New York City firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton since 2003. Before that he held the same job at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering from 1999 to 2003 and worked as a federal prosecutor in the city from 1994 to 1999.

Gary Brown will sit on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, a court on which he has served as a magistrate judge since 2011. A former Obama nominee, Brown spent a decade as a federal prosecutor on Long Island and worked in various positions at CA Technologies from 2005 to 2011.

Liman was confirmed 64-29, while Brown’s vote was confirmed unanimously with a voice vote.

Kea Whetzal Riggs will serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico after spending the past five years as a judge on the Fifth Judicial District Court of New Mexico. Riggs was a part-time magistrate judge on the New Mexico federal court from 2001 to 2014, during which time she also worked as an adjunct professor at Eastern New Mexico University and New Mexico Highlands University. Riggs was confirmed 94-0.

Stephanie Davis, nominated to a position on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, has been a magistrate judge on the same court since 2016. She spent the decade before taking that job as a federal prosecutor in Detroit and also worked as a litigation associate for five years at the Detroit firm Dickinson Wright. She was confirmed unanimously on a voice vote.

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