Today, the U.S. Senate invoked cloture on Judge Amul Thapar’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. The 52-48 vote was surprisingly close, with every Democrat voting against cloture.
Democrats’ unified opposition to Thapar is notable, as his record is not particularly extreme, and several mainstream legal groups, including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association support his nomination. If anything, Thapar’s record is more moderate than that of Justice Neil Gorsuch. Yet, the four Democrats who supported cloture for Gorsuch all voted against Thapar. Three factors may explain the unanimity:
- Thapar is Trump’s first lower court nomination. By establishing firm opposition to him, Democrats are setting a baseline for their standards, refusing to vote for any nominee to Thapar’s right.
- Thapar is a prospective Supreme Court nominee if Justice Kennedy retires. Voting against him unanimously gives Democratic Senators cover to reject Thapar if he is ever elevated.
- Thapar’s nomination has moved incredibly quickly. He spent a mere five days on the Senate Executive Calendar before cloture was filed. In contrast, during the Obama Administration, Republicans made even non-controversial Obama appointees wait months before a confirmation vote. By voting no, Democrats are registering their opposition to the speed of Thapar’s confirmation.
At any rate, Thapar’s nomination can be compared to that of Judge David Hamilton, the first circuit court nominee President Obama sent to the Senate. Hamilton, who had a relatively moderate profile, and strong support from Indiana Republicans, faced intense Republican opposition and accusations of being a judicial activist. After languishing on the floor for over five months, Hamilton was confirmed with the support of just one Republican Senator (his home state Senator Richard Lugar).
Tomorrow, we will see if Thapar can manage even the one cross-party vote that Hamilton got. Based on the vote today, I wouldn’t count on it.