Democrats Unlikely To Stop Any Trump Judicial Nominees

May 18, 2018
Originally published on May 18, 2018 10:27 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's explore the meaning of a phrase in the Constitution - advice and consent. That's what the Senate is supposed to give the president on judicial nominees. In practice, that has meant Senators ask nominees a lot of questions before giving consent. But Senate Democrats and at least one Republican are upset by what they consider a new development. The Trump administration's judicial nominees declined to answer meaningful questions. Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has made no secret of what he considers his greatest achievement - holding up President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court for nearly a year and the subsequent confirmation of Trump nominee Neil Gorsuch within the first six months of the new administration. Since then, it's been on the lower courts, where McConnell has made judicial confirmations a No. 1 priority. Here is this week after a GOP caucus lunch with Trump on Capitol Hill.

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MITCH MCCONNELL: We were all in a celebratory mood as a result of having approved the 21st circuit judge just a few moments ago. That means that one-eighth of the circuit judges in America have been appointed by Donald Trump.

TOTENBERG: The mood was quite different in the Judiciary Committee yesterday as the senators met to vote on five judicial nominations, three of them very controversial. The date was May 17, the 64th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision declaring that public school segregation was unconstitutional. And two of the nominees before the Judiciary Committee, following the Trump administration playbook, had refused to say whether the Brown case was correctly decided. That's a marked departure from nominees in previous Republican administrations. Trump nominees, however, have been coached not to respond to questions about their personal beliefs, about concepts of law and about any specific Supreme Court decisions, no matter how historic. That prompted this outburst from Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.

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PATRICK LEAHY: Good lord. I'll be darned if I'm going to have somebody stand up and say, well, I can't tell you whether I agree with the Supreme Court decision, which is the law of the land. Is there anybody in this room that wants us to repeal Brown v. Board of Education?

TOTENBERG: It also prompted this warning from Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, who's made no secret of his growing anger of the stonewalling by Trump judicial nominees.

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JOHN KENNEDY: I do worry sometimes, Mr. Chairman, that our nominees are so well-coached and for whatever reason are so timid that they won't discuss the law. And I'm not going vote for nominees anymore that won't answer my questions.

TOTENBERG: And the ranking Democrat on the committee, California's Dianne Feinstein, who until now has often seemed resigned to losing, threw down a marker.

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DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Those of us on our side have had enough of it, and we're going to begin to be much more active than we have been in accepting this effort to stack the circuit courts of the United States.

TOTENBERG: Just how the Democrats will stop any of the Trump nominees is not clear, not without some Republicans breaking ranks, something that hasn't happened under McConnell's reign - at least not yet. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

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