In an unusual move, a panel of Senate Republicans are holding hearings on four of President Donald Trump’s latest judicial nominees. The hearings come as a shock to many members of the Senate as Congress is in recess in the wake of the November 6 midterm elections and only two members of the 21-member Senate Judiciary Committee are in attendance. Both members, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah and Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, are Republicans, and Democrats are accusing conservative leadership of trying to expedite the nomination process for political gain. Two of the nominees being considered, Seattle attorney Eric Miller and Arizona judge Bridget Bade, are staunch conservatives who would serve on the liberal-leaning California 9th Circuit. Trump has been very critical of the 9th Circuit in the past. The 9th Circuit and its mostly Democrat-nominated judges ruled against Trump’s travel ban of Muslim and Middle Eastern countries in 2017. The travel ban was later upheld by the majority conservative Supreme Court.
Senator Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington, has publicly called for canceling the hearings. Murray argues that Republicans are trying to turn a typically bi-partisan process into a unilateral effort to accelerate the confirmation procedure. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, responded to Democrat criticisms by arguing that the sessions were agreed to by Diane Feinstein, the chief Democrat on the committee. Feinstein disputes Grassley’s claim. Bade and Miller’s sessions only lasted 20 minutes. Among topics addressed in Hatch and Crapo’s questioning were Native American tribal sovereignty and the correct role of judges. Hatch and Crapo later interviewed Richard Hertling for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, a circuit which has jurisdiction over claims concerning monetary judgments against the national government, and Karin Immergut for a position on a federal district court in Oregon. All four nominees must still be approved by both a vote in the Judiciary Committee and in the full Senate, which is controlled 51-49 by Republicans.
Many Democrats see the latest hearings as part of Trump and the Republican’s agenda to turn the judicial system into a conservative majority that would benefit them politically. Trump has already appointed 29 new judges to federal appellate courts, an unusually high number for a president still in his first term. The appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court earlier this month following a heated nomination further brought the federal judiciary right of center.