Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday for the first time in nearly three months, providing a much-needed Democratic vote on some of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees that have stalled. during his absence.
Feinstein, who has been out since end of february due to a shingles attack, he arrived at the hearing an hour and a half after it began. Colleagues cheered when the 89-year-old veteran senator arrived as Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) quickly prepared votes for the long-overdue nominees.
Four of Biden’s court picks have stalled in committee amid Feinstein’s extended absence. Three were expelled as a result of their presence there.
The panel voted 11-10 to further the nomination of Charnelle Bjelkengren to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Republicans have been attacking Bjelkengren, a county superior court judge in Washington and a former assistant state attorney general, after she blank in questions on the Constitution at his January confirmation hearing.
Democrats have attributed Bjelkengren’s hiccups to the jitters first-time judicial nominees can experience testifying before Congress. But Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) came to Thursday’s hearing armed with a banner attacking Bjelkengren’s credibility and with his trademark performative outrage.
“Charnelle Bjelkengren is so unbelievably unqualified that she could very well hold the title of the least qualified candidate I have seen in 11 years serving on this committee,” Cruz said.
The Texas Republican glossed over the fact that routinely voted to confirm Trump’s judicial nomineeswho earned rare and embarrassing “not qualified” ratings from the American Bar Association.
Durbin noted that Bjelkengren was rated “qualified” to serve by the American Bar Association. He also highlighted his record of presiding over 130 jury and bench trials as a county judge and trying more than 150 cases as an assistant state attorney general.
The committee also voted 11-10 to further the nomination of Marian Gaston to the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. Cruz was practically yelling at Gaston, who had served as a San Diego County superior court judge since 2015 and as a deputy public defender in San Diego before that.
“The Joe Biden White House is saying (wants) that a radical who wants sex offenders, who wants pedophiles, can live next door to day care centers,” Cruz said of Gaston. “That’s what a federal judge should be.”
Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), who recommended Gaston to Biden for a judgeship, criticized Cruz for misrepresenting his record. He said Cruz was referring to an article Gaston co-authored that argued that children might be less safe due to the unintended consequences of sex offender residency requirements that push sex offenders into homelessness. . That newspaper, he said, made public safety arguments that were backed by local prosecutors and probation and probation groups.
“It is patently incorrect to suggest that a position paper Justice Gaston co-authored 15 years ago argues that sex offender registries do not protect children,” Padilla said. “The paper is being misrepresented in bad faith…. That’s not what he said.
Ultimately, the committee voted 11-10 to further the S. Kato Crews nomination to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. Cruz also yelled about Crews’ nomination, criticizing his inability to nail down a Brady move during his confirmation hearing. The motion, the result of a landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling in Brady v. Maryland, it is a formal request to a court to compel prosecutors to turn over any evidence that may be favorable to the defense.
“When asked about Brady v. Maryland, one of the foundational classes in criminal law … said, ‘Sorry, I don’t know what Brady is,’” Cruz said, apparently unaware that Crews is a man. “That will be a problem if he ever presides over a criminal case…. Because if you’re remotely competent, you know what he is.”
Durbin responded that Crews, a trial judge in Denver, was rated “unanimously well qualified” to serve by the American Bar Association. He also served 17 years in private practice, Durbin said, bringing 18 cases to verdict.
Before Feinstein arrived for Thursday’s hearing, the committee presented three other uncontroversial judicial nominees. but even With his back turned, Durbin has yet to mention one latest candidate who has stalled for months: Michael Delaney, Biden’s pick for a seat on the New Hampshire-based US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
Delaney’s nomination has run into trouble with some Democrats over her legal work on a controversial school sexual assault case and her record on abortion rights. As recently as last week, got himself in more trouble for Democrats for his role on a panel examining amicus briefs filed by a free-market group. Those writings have opposed labor rights, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and PFAS limits on drinking water.
Democrats on the committee have tried to avoid weighing in on Delaney’s nomination for months as national abortion rights groups have been silent on the matter. Not only is this strange for a court pick filed by a Democratic president, but the senators continue to bicker as both Democratic senators from Delaney’s home state, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, continue to strongly endorse her nomination.
“I have a lot of respect for Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan,” committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (DR.I.) said Wednesday as he boarded a Senate subway car. Other than that, he said he’s still undecided on Delaney’s nomination.
“I’m leaning toward Delaney, but we’ll see what happens with all the information that comes out,” said Sen. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), also a member of the committee.
“His great asset, of course, is that he has the enthusiastic support of two people who know him very well,” Welch continued. Both are highly respected members of the Senate. … But the (negative) news is getting out. He keeps dripping”.
Even Feinstein’s office said Thursday that it is “still undecided” about Delaney, erasing any speculation that her return to the Senate would mean her nomination could finally move forward.
Durbin declined to say how he felt about Delaney’s prospects, with or without Feinstein’s return. He also seemed tired of HuffPost asking him about this.
“That’s all you ever ask me,” he said as he walked away.