Senate approves 200th federal judge nominated by Trump

Democrats have accused Republicans of prioritising stacking the court with conservative judges over pressing issues.

new orleans appeals court
United States President Donald Trump has had more of his nominated federal judges confirmed by the Senate than any other US president in four decades [File: Jonathan Bachman/The Associated Press]

The United States Senate has approved the 200th federal judge to be named by President Donald Trump, confirmed the Republican-controlled chamber.

To date, Trump has nominated more judges that have then been confirmed by the Senate than any other president in four decades.

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Critics have accused the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of prioritising packing the courts with conservative judges while ignoring other pressing matters, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, gun violence, voting rights and other issues. 

“Over the last three years, instead of focusing on legislation to help the American people, Leader McConnell and President Trump have dedicated almost every ounce of their energy and focus to packing the courts with right-wing ideologues who they know will do their bidding from the bench,” Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said.

Responding to the confirmation on Wednesday, former Vice President and Democratic candidate Joe Biden wrote that “Instead of passing police reform or helping hardworking Americans get through this crisis, Republicans are jamming through another one of Trump’s unqualified nominees. It’s wrong.”

The most recent nomination – of Mississippi judge Cory Wilson to a federal appeals court in New Orleans – overcame Democratic charges that Wilson has a record of working to undermine the voting rights of African Americans and other minorities.

Senator Kamala Harris, one of three Black senators in the chamber, called Wilson’s record “extremely problematic at this moment in time” as the nation faces a reckoning over racism in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd and other African Americans. 

Vote along party lines

Wednesday’s approval came on a nearly party-line vote of 52-48. Maine Senator Susan Collins was the only Republican to vote against Wilson. 

Wilson will join the 5th Circuit court, which hears cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. The court is considered one of the most conservative appeals courts in the nation. 

Democrats and civil rights groups have said Wilson has been a longtime proponent of voter ID laws that disproportionately harm communities of colour, students, voters with disabilities and the elderly. Democrats also said he has made false claims about the prevalence of voter fraud in the US and expressed opposition to enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Judge Wilson’s troubling record on voting rights is highly relevant to his nomination,” said California Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The 5th Circuit is a majority-minority circuit, she noted. About 55 percent of those who live in the region are minorities.

“The Senate should not confirm a nominee who would work to further restrict the right to vote from the bench,” Feinstein said.

Feinstein and other Democrats also said Wilson has demonstrated hostility to voting rights in Mississippi. In 2011, he dismissed concerns from the Mississippi chapter of the NAACP that a voter ID law would suppress the vote as “poppycock, unless you count the dead vote”.

In 2013, he wrote that then-Attorney General Eric Holder had “whined” that voter ID laws were part of an illegitimate orchestrated effort by Republicans to suppress poor and minority voting.

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Meanwhile, McConnell called Wilson “an outstanding nominee” and noted that he has served as a lawyer in private practice, a state lawmaker, adviser to top state officials and a judge. The American Bar Association rates Wilson as “well-qualified.”

McConnell, who has made confirmation of judicial nominees a priority, said that with Wilson’s confirmation, there will be no appeals court vacancies in the nation for the first time in at least 40 years.

“As I’ve said many times, our work with the administration to renew our federal courts is not a partisan or political victory. It is a victory for the rule of law and for the Constitution itself,” McConnell said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies