Republicans Help Democrats Advance Biden’s Judicial Nominees Amid Feinstein’s Absence

Republicans Help Democrats Advance Biden’s Judicial Nominees Amid Feinstein’s Absence
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in Washington on May 25, 2022. (Ting Shen/Pool/Getty Images)
Zachary Stieber
4/21/2023
Updated:
4/22/2023
0:00

Republican senators joined Democrat colleagues in advancing multiple judicial nominees from a Senate panel after a weekslong pause due to the absence of a Democrat senator.

The Senate Judiciary Committee discharged seven nominees from President Joe Biden on April 20 as at least one Republican joined all remaining Democrats on the panel.

GOP senators helped advance Jeffrey Cummings and LaShonda Hunt, nominated as U.S. District Court judges for the Northern District of Illinois; Orelia Merchant, nominated as U.S. District Court judge for the Eastern District of New York; Michael Farbiarz and Robert Kirsch, nominated as U.S. District Court judges for the District of New Jersey; and Monica Almadani and Wesley Hsu, nominated as U.S. District Court judges for Central District of California.

Democrats control the Senate, giving them the chair and a majority on each committee. Democrats have 11 members, including Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), on the judiciary panel. Republicans have 10 members. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has been absent since February as she deals with shingles. Feinstein asked to be temporarily replaced, but Ranking Member Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) blocked that bid.

Durbin, though, said he'd spoken to Graham and had chosen to hold the first hearing in weeks to vote on the nominees.

“Our agenda includes a number of judicial nominees who have been sitting on the agenda for some time. Some have bipartisan support. There’s nothing to prevent us from calling and voting on these nominees today even in Sen. Feinstein’s absence,” he said. “I understand we now have agreement to vote on several of them. I’ve spoken to Sen. Graham.”

“Today I’m going to do my part, and my colleagues will vote the way they think is best, to keep the committee moving forward,” Graham said.

Both Graham and Durbin said they wished Feinstein well and hope she returns soon.

Without Republican support, Democrats cannot advance nominees to the full Senate. The judiciary panel is charged with considering nominees offered by Biden. Feinstein voted by proxy for each nominee, but proxy votes are only allowed under committee rules if they are not the deciding vote, CNN reported.

Graham was the only Republican to vote for three of the nominees. Multiple Republicans, such as Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), voted for others.

Durbin held back other appointees, including Kato Crews, indicating they may not have had any Republican support.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor recently that nominees “who are mainstream and qualified” would get bipartisan support but that Feinstein’s absence would mean “that Democrats aren’t able to push through a small fraction of their nominees who are so extreme and so unqualified that they cannot win a single Republican vote in committee.”

Crews under questioning from Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) during his confirmation hearing said he could not recall what a Brady motion was.

“I believe the Brady case involves something regarding the Second Amendment. It has not—I’ve not had occasion to address that. If that issue were to come before me, I would certainly analyze that Supreme Court precedent and apply it, as I would need to, to the facts in front of me,” Crews said during the hearing.

Under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Brady v. Maryland, defendants may seek to force prosecutors to turn over evidence that may be favorable to the defendants.

McConnell said the lack of knowledge meant Crews, currently a judge in Denver, was unqualified.

Charnelle Bjelkengren, another appointee who did not receive a vote, couldn’t say during her confirmation hearing what Article II or Article V of the U.S. Constitution says.

If an appointee is advanced from the judiciary panel, they are approved even with a simple majority. Democrats hold 51 seats in the upper chamber after flipping one in the midterm elections, giving them enough votes even with Feinstein’s absence after Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) returned recently following a hospital stay for depression.

Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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