The Senate has now confirmed 170 Trump judges, with even more to come

The following is an excerpt from Blaze Media’s Capitol Hill Brief email newsletter:

Here’s another news item that threatens to get drowned out by Congress’ focus on impeachment: The Senate has now confirmed 170 of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees to federal courts.

The new total comes after the Senate confirmed eight new judges to federal courts over the past week, Senate Finance Chairman and former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley noted on Twitter. One of those seats had been vacant for over a decade. Senate Judiciary Committee member Marsha Blackburn noted that the new total was because “we’re tending to business,” in contrast to the House’s focus on the impeachment process.

“This is huge for our country,” GOP Senator David Perdue said of the news. “These judges are defending and upholding the Constitution!”

But don’t expect that number to stay static for too long. The Senate is poised to vote on two Ninth Circuit nominations next week, and Trump pledged last month to bring the total to over 180 by year’s end.

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The Senate just confirmed a pro-life judge, and abortion advocates are steamed

Abortion advocates are up in arms over the Senate's confirmation of Sarah Pitlyk as a district judge for the Eastern District of Missouri.

Pitlyk was confirmed Wednesday afternoon by a vote of 49-44, with 7 members not voting. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was the lone Republican to vote against the confirmation.

So what was so controversial about this nominee? She's got a professional history of pro-life litigation, for starters.

In her previous job at the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk defended pro-life advocate and citizen journalist David Daleiden, whose undercover Planned Parenthood videos in 2015 sparked a congressional investigation. She defended Iowa's six-week abortion ban. In her previous work, she also argued that human lives created during in vitro fertilization should be treated like human lives and noted ethical problems created by surrogacy.

Pitlyk also faced pushback because the American Bar Association — much as it did with recently confirmed judge Lawrence VanDyke — rated Pitlyk as "not qualified" for the federal bench.

As far as her actual qualifications go, Pitlyk is a graduate of Boston College and got her law degree from Yale; she also has two master's degrees. In 2010-2011, Pitlyk clerked for now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was on the D.C. Circuit. Before joining the Thomas More Society as special counsel, she worked at a Missouri law firm handling religious liberty and pro-life cases.

Here's what abortion proponents had to say about the confirmation.

“Sarah Pitlyk’s confirmation to the district court in Missouri is a dream come true for the anti-choice movement and a profound danger to women and families in the state," NARAL president Ilyse Hogue stated. "Putting judges like Pitlyk on the bench who will spend their lifetime appointments working to roll back reproductive freedom is further proof that Donald Trump is paying back his debts and then some to the anti-choice movement that got him elected.”

“Missourians already have to navigate an impossible landscape just to access abortion," read a statement from acting Planned Parenthood president and CEO Alexis McGill Johnson. "Sarah Pitlyk’s confirmation to the U.S. District Court puts their health and rights in even greater jeopardy."

Marge Baker, People for the American Way executive vice president for policy and program said that Pitlyk's "career has been devoted to curtailing reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care."

But not everyone is angry with the confirmation.

“We congratulate Sarah Pitlyk on her well-deserved confirmation and are confident she will serve with distinction on the federal bench,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, said Wednesday. “With her world-class education, extensive legal expertise, and commitment to fairness and integrity, we are pleased to see Ms. Pitlyk prevail over partisan obstruction."

Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, R, said that the newly confirmed judge's "strong legal experience, sharp intellect, and commitment to the rule of law make her an outstanding choice for the Eastern District." Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, R, called Pitlyk "an experienced attorney who understands the Constitution should be read and applied as our founders intended."

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White House reportedly asks Senate to hold off on judicial nominee long opposed by conservatives

The following is an excerpt from Blaze Media’s Capitol Hill Brief email newsletter:

One of President Donald Trump’s more controversial judicial nominees appears to be in trouble in the Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee has left Halil Suleyman “Sul” Ozerden off the agenda for a meeting to consider other judicial nominees and did so at the request of the White House, according to a committee spokesperson. This isn’t the first time that the committee has delayed dealing with the nomination, either. The committee held off on the nomination both last month and in September.

The debate over the nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has been going on for a few months now. Conservative legal organizations have voiced their concerns about the nominee’s textualist bona fides, calling him “an establishment moderate” who “has not demonstrated a commitment to textualist methods of statutory interpretation.” A September letter signed by several leaders in the conservative movement cited concerns with the candidate’s “commitment to religious liberty, and more broadly, with his commitment to advancing the original meaning of the Constitution.” Committee member Ted Cruz has opposed the nomination, saying that the nominee hasn’t met the standard of showing a “strong, demonstrated record as a constitutionalist.” Committee member Josh Hawley has also voiced opposition to the nominee, saying, “I just think his religious liberty record is one that is difficult, that is troubling, there’s no issue that’s more complicated frankly.”

Now, after months of pushback, it appears that the White House might be reconsidering its decision. Whether this means the president will withdraw the nomination and opt for a nominee with more conservative support remains to be seen.

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Mike Lee: Cut the ABA's privileged say-so on judicial nominees — 'significant left-leaning bias there'

A recent controversial rating of a Trump judicial nominee has raised the question of how much influence the left-leaning American Bar Association (ABA) ought to wield in the process of picking America's federal judges.

News broke earlier this week that the lawyers' organization issued a "not qualified" rating against Ninth Circuit judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke on the eve of his confirmation hearing. More than that, the letter accompanying the rating also engaged in ad hominem criticisms of the nominee, saying that his professional accomplishments "are offset by the assessments of interviewees that Mr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules."

The nominee even broke down in tears during his hearing as he disputed a part of the letter that claimed he "would not say affirmatively that he would be fair to any litigant before him, notably members of the LGBTQ community."

"I did not say that. I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God. They should all be treated with dignity and respect," VanDyke told Judiciary Committee member Josh Hawley.

During his time at the hearing, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, pointed to the rating and the letter as proof that the group does not deserve the "preferred, widely envied, and unique position" in the judicial selection process that it currently holds.

While the association has taken a special part in the judicial confirmation process for decades, the degree of its input has changed with varying administrations. For example, the George W. Bush administration ended the practice of having the group pre-screen possible nominations before sending them to the Senate.

"There were times when members [of Congress] would just consider that to be the end of the matter, if the ABA didn't consider someone qualified," Lee said in a phone interview with Blaze Media. "But given the sort of politically charged nature of many of their recommendations, some of us are now wondering why they should play any more role — any greater role —in this process than any other organization, any other outside entity. Why the ABA and not the Federalist Society, or the AFL-CIO or the Farm Bureau, or any other entity that has every right to exist but ... occupies no government office?"

To someone unfamiliar with the matter, the fact that a leading professional association for attorneys takes a privileged role in judicial selection might seem like something that wouldn't be controversial. However, the group has long been criticized for its liberal bias and the role that bias plays in the judicial process.

Lee points to a 2012 academic paper published in Political Research Quarterly that empirically found "strong evidence of systematic bias in favor of Democratic nominees" in the ABA's vetting process. "All else being equal," the paper concludes, "a Democratic nominee is more likely to be rated Well Qualified than a similarly qualified Republican nominee."

At a hearing for a different judicial nominee in September, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, criticized the group's "long and ridiculous record of behaving as a partisan mouthpiece when it comes to judicial nominations." To back up his point, the senator pointed out that a majority of the association's standing committee that evaluates nominees had donated "over $60,000 to Democratic candidates and related groups" and that presidential donations from the committee had gone to Democrats alone in recent election cycles.

The group's political bias is also evident in the public policy positions that it has taken, explained Judicial Crisis Network president Carrie Severino in a September op-ed at National Review, which says "The ABA has a history of taking liberal positions on issues including abortion, the death penalty, same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and the Second Amendment."

There's also the question of how the ABA conducts such reviews in the first place. For example, the Article III Project found that the ABA violated three of its own rules in the VanDyke evaluation process, including the fact that the primary reviewer should have recused herself because she donated to a previous political opponent of the nominee. But she didn't recuse herself. During the interview, Lee also said that lawmakers should also take a look at those procedural concerns, as well as those about bias, before continuing with the status quo.

"This is not one of these things where I'm pounding the table saying this is a leftist organization and therefore has to be publicly shamed, that's not it," Lee cautioned over the phone. "It's got every right to be politically oriented in whatever way they want to be."

However, the senator concluded, "the way we have incorporated the ABA into this process, historically, would suggest that it is a neutral arbiter, and we treat it kind of in the same way that we would our own committee staff, and I don't think that's sustainable, especially given that we've seen now that there is a significant left-leaning bias there."

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Trump's new interior chief confirmed despite Dems' climate change fearmongering

The Senate confirmed President Trump's latest nominee to head up the Department of the Interior by a vote of 56-41.

Three Senate Democrats -- Martin Heinrich, N.M., Kirsten Sinema, Ariz., and Joe Manchin, W.V. -- along with Independent Sen. Angus King, Maine, joined their Republican colleagues in voting for the nominee.

David Bernhardt will take over the job vacated by former Secretary Ryan Zinke in December and was confirmed despite vocal objections from Democratic lawmakers.

In addition to his record as an attorney and Interior Department official under President George W. Bush, Bernhardt also used to work as an energy lobbyist for a time. That portion of resume generated the bulk of his opposition from Democrats who claim that his supposed conflicts of interest disqualify him from the job.

Bernhardt's confirmation hearing made a lot of headlines, not necessarily because of the nominee's testimony, but because of an onlooker who wore a swamp monster mask in the chamber while it was happening.

Earlier this week, a group of over 50 House Democrats sent out a letter to their colleagues in the upper chamber, urging them to oppose Bernhardt's nomination.

“As our climate crisis only grows in urgency and magnitude, it is more important than ever that we have a secretary who will defend and protect our natural resources and wildlife,” the letter reads. “Unfortunately, Mr. Bernhardt has a lengthy record of advancing corporate interests at the expense of the environment.”

Before the vote, Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., took to the floor to defend Bernhardt against the accusations.

"Over the course of the last couple months, the Washington, D.C., political smear machine has been working overtime to sully a good man's name," Gardner said while touting Bernhardt's background at the Department of Interior and his ethics record.

"This is not about Mr. Bernhardt's ethics or his integrity or his qualifications," Gardner later added. "It's about the fact that he has been and will be effective at implementing an agenda that the other side doesn't agree with. Because they know he will be effective at protecting our great outdoors and our public lands."

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