White House plans to send 50 judicial nominees to new Congress

Same 50 names put forward again

By ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER
Alex Wong/Getty Images

(CNN) - The White House on Tuesday night announced its intention to renominate 50 judicial nominees, rekindling a battle between Republicans, who hope to capitalize on their record-breaking judicial success from the last Congress, and Democrats, who have lashed out at some of President Donald Trump's more controversial nominees.

The names were put forward again on Tuesday because their nominations weren't acted upon before the end of the last congressional session.

The new nominations come as key players in the judicial confirmation wars are no longer involved. Former White House counsel Don McGahn -- who considered judicial nominees one of his top priorities -- has left the administration and former Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, has moved over to the Finance Committee.

Among those on the White House list are Neomi Rao, who currently serves as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has been nominated to fill the former seat of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, as well as Wendy Vitter, who came under fire in her confirmation hearing last year for declining to say whether she thought the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education was correctly decided.

At her hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, asked Vitter about the case. Vitter said she didn't mean to be "coy" but that she would get into a "difficult, difficult area when I start commenting on Supreme Court decisions -- which are correctly decided and which I may disagree with."

She went on to say that if she were confirmed to the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, she would be "bound by Supreme Court precedent."

Judicial conservatives argued Vitter had declined to answer the Brown question because she believes that judges should maintain their impartiality by declining to put forward personal opinions on particular cases.

Rao drew some controversy earlier this month when the progressive group Alliance for Justice highlighted articles she had written at Yale University and The Washington Times just before she graduated from college.

"Kavanaugh's confirmation awakened progressives to the importance of our courts," said Christopher Kang, who serves as counsel for Demand Justice, a group that formed to oppose Trump's nominees.

"Our courts will have the final word on many of Trump's policies and will be his most lasting legacy -- now we're starting to fight like it," he said.

For their part, Republicans have stressed that they have so far confirmed 53 district judges, 30 for the court of appeals and two Supreme Court justices.

"We're committed to seeing highly qualified nominees confirmed -- over the obstruction and bullying tactics of Senate Democrats," said Carrie Severino, who serves as chief counsel to the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group that supports the administration's efforts on judges. The group recently launched a $1.5 million national ad campaign targeting judicial confirmations.

On January 9, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican who's the incoming chair of the Judiciary Committee, tweeted that "the confirmation of conservative judges will be one of my top priorities as Chairman."

Absent from Tuesday's list was Thomas Farr, who had been plagued by accusations that he supported measures that disenfranchised African-American voters. Last November, Sen. Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, announced he would oppose the nomination.

It was unclear whether Farr could be renominated at a later date.

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