Two Federal Judges Confirmed as Senators Scramble to Reach Funding Deals

The U.S. Capitol building in Washington. (Courthouse News photo/Jack Rodgers)

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate voted Thursday to confirm two federal judges nominated by President Donald Trump, continuing to fill judicial vacancies in the lame-duck session despite the urgency facing lawmakers as they hammer out virus relief and government funding packages.  

While legislative leadership has spent most of this week sequestered in congressional meeting rooms fervently negotiating deals for additional Covid-19 relief legislation and funding to avoid a government shutdown, the work of the Senate to reshape the nation’s courts has continued unabated.

Charles Edward Atchley Jr. sailed through his confirmation vote 54-41 Thursday and will be seated on the Eastern District of Tennessee bench. He became the 233rd Trump judicial nominee confirmed by the Senate and is the second judge to be seated on the eastern Tennessee federal court in as many days.

Atchley has worked as assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Tennessee since 2001. Before that he spent time in corporate law, working as a staff attorney for Family Inns of America and briefly working at Scott & Associates, a Tennessee firm focused on collections and ongoing business litigation.

Responding to a Senate questionnaire, Atchley denied being a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization that has had a hand in many of Trump’s judicial picks.  

The questionnaire is dated Nov. 25, just three weeks after the presidential election that Trump and Republican allies have claimed without evidence was stolen due to widespread voter fraud. Their legal challenges have been unsuccessful, with the U.S. Supreme Court rejecting a Texas-led effort overturn the election results last week.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, noted that Atchley worked on the Justice Department’s Voter Integrity Initiative, serving as the Tennessee point person for that program from 2002 to 2006.

Feinstein asked Atchley whether he saw any evidence of large-scale voter fraud during that time.

“No,” he answered simply.

As for the landmark Supreme Court decisions in Roe v. Wade and Obergefell v. Hodges, which came down in favor of abortion rights and same-sex marriage, respectively, Atchley said those precedents were settled law.

He also said he had no knowledge of innerworkings of the Federalist Society, in response to questions about the group from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

“I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Federalist Society,” Atchley wrote.

The Senate also confirmed Zachary Somers, former chief investigative counsel for Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims in a 52-43 vote. The appointment is a 15-year job. Somers is Trump’s 234th federal judge.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, outlined Somers’ qualifications during his nomination hearing in November, noting his work on the committee as a general counsel and parliamentarian.

“I just think he’s an outstanding young man who will do a great job,” Graham said at the time.  

Somers highlighted his legal experience in responses to his Senate questionnaire.

“I believe the experience I have gained on Capitol Hill will be invaluable if I am lucky enough to be confirmed, especially to this court in which trials are rare and without juries or a criminal docket,” Somers wrote.

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