Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., came to the floor Thursday afternoon to line up a full week’s worth of appeals court confirmation votes next week, fully engaging a hot-button topic the GOP base has been highly critical about.
Once Trevor McFadden is confirmed to the district court in Washington, D.C., Monday evening, the judicial wars appear sure to resume with a cloture vote to limit debate on President Donald Trump’s nomination of Amy Barrett to be a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“President Trump has done a terrific job of nominating judges who are already helping to restore the courts to their intended function in our system of government. The nominees we’ll consider next week are sure to do the same,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “We’ll continue our efforts with consideration of the Barrett nomination on Monday.”
Some of McConnell’s colleagues have urged the Senate to stay in session non-stop to confirm judges, although the president has only nominated judges for about a third of the federal judiciary’s overall vacancies, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Regardless, his colleagues, and conservative groups, are demanding faster action on confirming nominees.
Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame, faced questioning from Democrats about the influence of her Catholic faith.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee held a vote on Barrett’s nomination, senators on the panel ended up having a discussion about when it is appropriate to ask questions about a nominee’s religion — and even a suggestion to hold a public hearing on the issue.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member on Judiciary, told Barrett that one could conclude “the dogma lives loudly within you,” and that was a “concern” on issues such as abortion rights. Minority Whip Richard J. Durbin of Illinois asked her, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
Before senators voted to advance Barrett’s nomination to the Senate floor, Feinstein and Durbin defended their questions as appropriate to explore how Barrett’s faith might conflict with her actions on the bench since they said she had no judicial experience for senators to examine. Barrett had previously raised the issue in a 1998 article about how orthodox Catholic judges might act on the bench.
“For some on the left, that seems to be a disqualifying factor for her nomination,” McConnell said of Barrett’s Catholicism. “I would remind colleagues that we do not have religious tests for office in this country. There is no religious test for office in the United States of America.”
Durbin, a Catholic, said Republicans Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas asked questions about Barrett’s faith as well. He said it is “absurd” to suggest he sought to impose a religious test or that a Catholic couldn’t serve on the bench.
McConnell has started the procedural gears to limit debate on three additional appeals judges once Barrett is confirmed.
Those are Joan Larsen of Michigan for the 6th Circuit, Allison H. Eid of Colorado for the 10th Circuit and Stephanos Bibas of Pennsylvania for the 3rd Circuit.
Senators voted, 85-12, to limit debate on McFadden’s district court nomination Thursday before finishing up work for the week.
That followed confirmation of Scott L. Palk to the district court in the Western District of Oklahoma. Before being nominated by Trump, Palk was actually nominated by President Barack Obama in December 2015 with the backing of Oklahoma’s GOP senators.
The Republican-led Senate declined to confirm Palk under Obama.
A similar situation played out with Judge David Nye of Idaho, whom Obama nominated during the last Congress but lingered without a confirmation vote under the GOP-controlled Senate. Nye was finally confirmed in July.
Todd Ruger contributed to this report.