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Senate On Track To Confirm 6 More Of Trump's Judicial Nominees


This week, the Senate is on track to confirm six more federal appeals court judges. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that he wants to make that a lasting contribution to the country.


MITCH MCCONNELL: It's a top priority for me. I don't think there's anything we can do in the United States Senate that's more important for America than confirming judges as rapidly as we get them.

CORNISH: Here to talk more about the Trump administration and judges NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Welcome to the studio.


CORNISH: So Congress might not be getting a whole lot done this season, but its record on judges is very different, right? They're moving quickly.

JOHNSON: Very different by design. This is a major push by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He's putting judges ahead of any legislation. That's because he says confirming judges who are in their 40s could be a generational change for the courts and the country. Remember that judges serve for life. They rule on huge issues - the environment, workplace harassment, police accountability, government regulation. And Mitch McConnell has already ushered through a record 12 appeals court judges during President Trump's first year. And the race is now on for more in case the Senate changes hands in November.

CORNISH: You said in case. The Senate is obviously under Republican control right now. What happens if a Democratic Senate doesn't like these Trump administration picks?

JOHNSON: Yeah, we're seeing some of that dynamic play out this week. The Senate is voting on a Wisconsin lawyer named Michael Brennan for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. Michael Brennan's a Republican close to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. But Senator Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, never turned in paperwork on him that would signal her support.

In recent years, that failure to return a so-called blue slip would've been a veto, a blackball on Brennan. But Senator Charles Grassley, who leads the judiciary committee, scheduled a hearing and a vote on Brennan anyway. Democrats say that's the first time in 30 years that a federal appeals court judge will be confirmed over the objection of a senator from that judge's home state.

CORNISH: In the meantime, President Trump has had a lot of criticism for one court in particular, the 9th Circuit. And that's because of its rulings over immigration and specifically his travel ban. How far has the White House gone to try and focus to reshape that court?

JOHNSON: Not far yet. The key word there is yet. Later this week, the judiciary committee is holding a hearing for Ryan Bounds, a nominee to the 9th Circuit from Oregon. But neither one of the state senators who are Democrats have submitted paperwork to approve him, the blue slip paperwork. They're citing inflammatory writings by Ryan Bounds when he was a student at Stanford University. Critics say those statements reveal our alarming views about sexual assault, workers' rights, people of color and LGBTQ people.

Now, Ryan Bounds says they were tone deaf. He's grown up a lot since then. And the Republican-led committee is charging ahead, but Democrats say they could live to regret that. That's because Republican lawmakers in their view are giving too much power to the White House to the disadvantage of the Senate in the future.

CORNISH: In the meantime, what have you heard from Democrats? What is their planned response to all this?

JOHNSON: Well, in fact they announced a new group on judges this week called Demand Justice. It's led by former Hillary Clinton campaign staffer and former Senator Chuck Schumer staffer Brian Fallon. They say Trump nominees to the bench are overwhelmingly white, male and very conservative. The plan here by the Democrats is to try to mount ad campaigns against some of Trump's nominees to slow down the process and eventually get ready for the next Supreme Court vacancy whenever that comes. But to be honest, Republicans control all the levers of power here right now, and there's not much that Democrats can do about it short of winning elections and winning back the Senate.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: My pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUJO'S "MEDICAL FLY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.