President Trump is plowing ahead to fill three vacancies on the liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, brushing aside Democratic resistance to nominate conservative judges.
Presidents traditionally work with senators from judicial nominees' home state -- in this case, California -- to put forward judicial picks. They often seek what's known as a "blue slip," or an opinion from those senators.
But in a snub to California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, the White House announced Wednesday that Trump had nominated Patrick Bumatay, Daniel Collins and Kenneth Kiyul Lee (all from the Golden State, and reportedly all members of the conservative Federalist Society) to the influential circuit. The court, with a sprawling purview representing nine Western states, has long been a thorn in the side of the Trump White House, with rulings against the travel ban and limits on funding to "sanctuary cities."
GOP critics have branded the court the “Nutty 9th,” in part because many of its rulings have been overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The Sacramento Bee reported that White House officials had been negotiating with Feinstein and Harris about the appointments earlier in the year, but the dialogue collapsed over the summer.
Any working relationship is likely only to have soured further after Harris and Feinstein led the charge on the Senate Judiciary Committee against the confirmation of now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In particular, Trump and Republicans accused Feinstein of withholding information about an allegation of sexual assault against Kavanaugh until after the hearings were over. Both Feinstein and Harris voted against Kavanaugh's nomination, joined by all but one Democratic senator.
Feinstein and Harris reacted angrily to the news of the latest appointments. Feinstein said in a statement that she had been prepared to accept a reported White House proposal of three other judges. She said she opposed both Collins and Lee -- who she said he had failed to disclose his “controversial writings” on voting rights and affirmative action.
“I repeatedly told the White House I wanted to reach an agreement on a package of 9th Circuit nominees, but last night the White House moved forward without consulting me, picking controversial candidates from its initial list and another individual with no judicial experience who had not previously been suggested,” she said in a statement.
“Instead of working with our office to identify consensus nominees for the 9th Circuit, the White House continues to try to pack the courts with partisan judges who will blindly support the president’s agenda, instead of acting as an independent check on this administration,” Harris spokeswoman Lily Adams told The Sacramento Bee.
Even with the nominations, it would not result in more Republican appointees than Democrat appointees. The Los Angeles Times reports that the approval Thursday of Idaho attorney Ryan Nelson brings the number of Republican appointees to 10 and, if Trump filled all the current openings, it would be 13 Republican appointees to 16 Democratic appointees.
The move comes amid a more aggressive push by Republicans to fill vacancies in the federal courts. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said Thursday that he wanted the Senate to stay in session until all of the 49 currently pending judicial appointments are confirmed.
“Lots of work to do,” Grassley tweeted. “Senate [should] stay in session til all 49 judges are CONFIRMED/ work comes [before] campaigning.”
Grassley has suggested in the past that the "blue slip" process has been abused to block otherwise qualified nominees. In a late 2017 floor speech, the senator said senators should not "block a nominee because it’s not the person the senator would’ve picked." He said the White House should "consult" home-state senators and "make that call" in the end.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., have been at odds over finishing up nominees, with neither side willing to move following the grueling confirmation process for Kavanaugh. On Thursday night, the Senate eventually confirmed 15 of the nominees before leaving D.C. for the midterm campaign. Almost half were confirmed mostly down party-lines while others were approved with bipartisan support.
There had been speculation that McConnell was intentionally trying to keep vulnerable Democratic senators off the campaign trail this fall.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who is up for reelection this fall in a state where Trump is popular, was asked if McConnell was deliberately trying to tether vulnerable Democrats to Washington. Tester laughed and replied, “I know you guys are smart enough to figure that out.”
Fox News’ Andrew O’Reilly. Chad Pergram and The Associated Press contributed to this report.