Senators bask in bipartisan glow as Judiciary panel advances slate of Biden court nominees
The upper chamber’s judicial panel welcomed California Senator Laphonza Butler, tapped to replace the late Dianne Feinstein.
by Benjamin S Weiss, Court House News, October 26, 2023
WASHINGTON (CN) — Lawmakers on the Senate’s legal affairs committee praised bipartisan cooperation Thursday as the panel approved a package of federal district court nominees and confirmed its newest member.
“For those people that think Washington is completely broken, and that we somehow hate each other and the long knives are out all the time, I want to reassure them: That’s just some of the time,” said Texas Senator John Cornyn during a business meeting in the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.
The Lone Star State Republican joined his colleagues in praising efforts by Democrats and the White House to secure GOP support for judicial nominees in their home states. Under the leadership of Judiciary Committee Chair Senator Dick Durbin, the panel has enforced a storied mechanism known as blue slipping to expand Republicans’ authority over court nominees.
Cornyn and fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz have taken advantage of blue slips on more than one occasion — most recently working alongside the Biden administration to approve John Kazen, currently a magistrate judge in the Southern District of Texas, for a slot as a district judge on that same bench.
“He’s got the right kind of temperament, complete integrity and the legal capabilities that you would expect from a federal judge,” Cornyn said of Kazen. The jurist’s nomination passed on a voice vote, a rare occurrence for the Judiciary Committee, where Democrats have lately been forced to rely on their slim majority to advance nominees.
Durbin, who as chair has vehemently defended blue slipping and urged bipartisanship, opined that he has been questioned by his Democrat colleagues, “sometimes actively,” about his commitment to filling vacancies on the federal judiciary.
“Some judicial vacancies in states represented by Republican senators have languished for months on end,” he said, suggesting that his work with the Texas senators could serve as a model for mitigating that issue.
Carl Tobias, chair of the University of Richmond School of Law, said that Durbin’s exchange with Cornyn “may reflect a possible breakthrough” that could help fill Texas’s seven judicial vacancies.
“If that happens, it could spark similar efforts in states like Missouri and Florida,” he added.
The committee also advanced three other federal court nominees, including Shanlyn Park and Micah Smith, both appointed to the District of Hawaii. The panel also approved Jamel Semper, tapped by the White House to fill a vacancy on the District of New Jersey.
All nominees cleared the committee on a bipartisan basis. Despite praising the bipartisan effort to bring forward a consensus pick in Texas, Cornyn voted against each of the remaining appointments.
The panel did not follow through on a scheduled vote on Mustafa Kasubhai, nominated to the District of Oregon. Kasubhai faced sharp questioning from committee Republicans during a confirmation hearing Oct. 4, during which lawmakers tried to cast aspersions on the jurist’s views on social issues and his decision record.
In one instance, multiple committee Republicans cited comments Kasubhai made in a February 2021 law school magazine article, which appear to have been taken out of context.
In the story, in which Kasubhai reflects on his experience as a Muslim-American jurist, he argues that lawyers should not fall back on their reflex to demand proof when having personal conversations about discrimination. GOP lawmakers attempted to frame that view as a statement on Kasubhai’s values as a judge.
During his hearing, Kasubhai tried to set the record straight. “Oftentimes, lawyers can be accused of always trying a case, no matter who they might be talking to,” he explained.
Meanwhile, the committee Thursday welcomed Senator Laphonza Butler, selected by California Governor Gavin Newsom to replace the late Dianne Feinstein, who died Sept. 29.
“The issues we’re discussing on this committee are of great importance to our nation,” Durbin told Butler, ”and your input on behalf of the people of California is well taken.”
Butler will assume Feinstein’s role as chair of the judiciary panel’s subcommittee on the Constitution. She will also take on the late senator’s other subcommittee assignments, including panels on counterterrorism, human rights and federal oversight.
Butler’s seat, a crucial vote for Democrats’ slim majority on the Judiciary Committee, will be up for grabs once again in the 2024 election. Several California lawmakers, including Representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, are vying for the role.
HIRONO, JUDICIARY COMMITTEE VOTE TO ADVANCE TWO HAWAII FEDERAL JUDGE NOMINEES