Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing for three of President Trump’s judicial nominees: John Bush, nominated for the Sixth Circuit, Kevin Newsom, nominated for the Eleventh Circuit, and Damien Schiff, nominated for the Court of Federal Claims. Anyone interested can watch the hearing, but I wanted to offer some preliminary observations.
DISCLAIMER: These are my subjective views. Obviously, opinions will differ, and I don’t claim to be an authority on confirmation hearings.
- It was a Good Day for Kevin Newsom – Early in the hearing, it was clear that Democrats did not particularly care to make a case against Kevin Newsom’s confirmation. Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) set the tone when she stated that she would not hold the GOP blockade of Judge Abdul Kallon to this seat against Newsom. For his part, Newsom navigated questions related to substantive due process with ease, charmed senators on both parties, and even offered a moment of genuine emotion during his opening statement when he remembered his late sister. Some Senators, including Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), didn’t even bother to ask Newsom any questions, while Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) went out of his way to praise the nominee for his pro bono advocacy of immigrants. In short, Newsom should feel pretty good about his chances.
- It was a Bad Day for John Bush – John Bush went into this hearing having already faced sustained opposition from liberal groups over his blogging and his speeches. He tried to rehabilitate himself early by apologizing for using a racial slur in a previous speech. However, Democrats largely ignored that particular complaint, instead focusing on his blogging. Both Sen. Feinstein and Sen. Franken took Bush to task over his writings, focusing on his criticism of Roe v. Wade and his citing of conspiracy theories respectively. Perhaps Bush’s lowest point came when Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA), whose vote Bush needs to advance, declined to ask him any questions, instead pithily noting: “I’ve read your blog; I’m not impressed.” A rattled Bush failed to seize on a lifeline offered by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), telling the senator that impartiality as a judge was an “aspiration” rather than an “absolute expectation.” To make things worse, Newsom stepped in to disagree and state that impartiality was an “absolute expectation” from judges. Of course, none of this is to say that Bush will not be confirmed. However, he did not make things any easier for himself.
- Nobody Cares About Damien Schiff – Walking into this hearing, Damien Schiff was likely the easiest nominee to oppose, given his inflammatory writing, including his reference to Justice Anthony Kennedy as a “judicial prostitute.” However, only a handful of senators stayed to question Schiff, and of them, only Sen. Franken seriously questioned Schiff’s blogging. Schiff’s explanation that the term was intended to criticize the media’s reporting on the Supreme Court (an explanation that falls apart the moment you actually read the entire post) was never challenged. This lack of attention speaks to how little senators (and probably the general public) cares about the court of federal claims.
There are other observations that can no doubt be made, but I will limit myself to those three. Overall, while the hearing was interesting, it had little that will attract media attention or the anger of the broader public. For nominees seeking confirmation, that can only be seen as a good thing.