WASHINGTON—Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, threw his support behind President Donald Trump’s three nominees for the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, calling them “highly qualified” in a Jan. 31 statement over objections from both California Senators who claimed the White House did not do enough to include them in the selection process.
On Jan. 30, the White House announced Trump’s intent to nominate Daniel Bress, a private attorney with the Kirkland & Ellis law firm based in D.C.; Daniel Collins, a partner at the Los Angeles law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson; and Kenneth Kiyul Lee, a partner at the Los Angeles office of Jenner & Block law firm.
“We are deeply disappointed that the White House has chosen to re-nominate Daniel Collins and Kenneth Lee to the Ninth Circuit. We made clear our opposition to these individuals and told the White House we wanted to work together to come to consensus on a new package of nominees,” Senators Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement.
Collins and Lee were nominated last year but were never confirmed by the Senate. Another nominee from last year, Patrick Bumatay, was recently nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Bumatay is an assistant attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.
It’s not clear why the White House changed its list this year.
A Wall Street Journal Editorial Board article speculated that the Trump administration had capitulated to the senators over their opposition to Bumatay who “might eventually be Supreme Court material.”
Instead, the White House chose Bress, who the Senators also objected to because of his lack of experience as a judge and the fact that he doesn’t live in California. According to the White House, he worked in the San Francisco office of Munger, Tolles & Olson before joining Kirkland and Ellis, and according to his work bio, is a member of the California bar and a native of Gilroy, California.
In letters to White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the Senators tried to get the White House to “work with us to reach an agreement.” They proposed each side picking a nominee from the other’s list, and negotiating a compromise on the third.
Trump has often touted his record appointing conservative judges, in this case for lifetime appointments, as one of the crowning accomplishments of his first two years in office. It has also endeared him to many conservatives, who see his party’s majority in the Senate as a hopeful sign that he can continue to appoint conservatives.
“Why on earth would the WH agree to tarnish its sterling legacy of circuit court judges & abandon the opportunity to improve the notorious 9th Cir to help Sens (and a would-be POTUS challenger) who are shafting him every chance they get?” Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network wrote on Twitter.
The POTUS challenger she was referring to is Harris, who earlier this month announced a 2020 run for president.
Trump has made no secret that he considers the Ninth Circuit Court, which oversees the West Coast, Alaska, and Hawaii, to be a panel of liberal activist judges that rule based on ideology more than law.
“The Ninth Circuit is a disaster,” he said during a Jan. 10 roundtable on border security and immigration.
“You can take the most perfectly worded document … and they’ll always bring it to the Ninth Circuit and then you never know what’s going to come out,” he said at a roundtable on border security and safe communities Jan. 11.
Trump’s dislike for the court is not without context. The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly ruled against him, most recently in November over his emergency asylum policy, which mandated that asylum seekers present themselves at an official port of entry as opposed to crossing into the United States wherever they please.
Earlier that month, the court ruled that he couldn’t end the DACA program, begun under former President Barack Obama, which legally protects hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens who were brought into the country illegally as children from deportation.
It also ruled against a September 2017 executive order that banned entry indefinitely to nearly all citizens of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen as of Oct. 18. In January 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in the administration’s favor, allowing the ban to take effect.
In a June-July 2018 NBC News poll of 2,652 adults, 47 percent of respondents said judicial nominations were one of several important factors they were considering in the midterms.
A majority, 60 percent, also said they thought the vetting process for Supreme Court nominees had become too partisan. When asked what types of judges they would like to see nominated, 20 percent said they wanted liberal, 44 percent said moderate, and 32 percent said conservative.
After the highly partisan confirmation hearings for Trump’s Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, it’s hard to imagine other Trump nominees getting unanimous support.
“These are highly qualified nominees,” Graham said in a statement. “I am hopeful they will receive wide bipartisan support.”