By Andrew Chung
(Reuters) – A Republican-led U.S. Senate panel on Wednesday held the second of two unusual hearings during a congressional recess in an aggressive push to confirm President Donald Trump’s conservative judicial nominees including to a liberal-leaning California-based court he often criticizes.
Democrats, who mounted an unsuccessful effort to block Senate confirmation this month of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, have slammed the president’s fellow Republicans for holding the hearings. Only two senators on the 21-member Judiciary Committee, both Republicans, showed up for the hearing in Washington on Wednesday in which four judicial nominees were considered.
Democratic Senator Patty Murray, who had asked Republicans to postpone the hearing while the Senate is in recess ahead of the Nov. 6 congressional elections, criticized “the shameful partisan path they have taken on what has always been a bipartisan process.” She accused the Republicans of a “mad dash” to secure confirmation.
Two of the nominees considered on Wednesday – Bridget Bade and Eric Miller – were picked by Trump to serve on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases arising from several western states including California.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican, said the committee scheduled the hearing dates with the agreement of the panel’s top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein. She disputes that.
Trump has repeatedly criticized the 9th Circuit, which has a majority of Democratic-appointed judges and has ruled against his administration in major cases including his travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries. The ban was later upheld by the conservative-majority Supreme Court.
Trump and Senate Republican leaders have made judicial nominations a top legislative priority, as the president seeks to turn the federal judiciary more conservative.
(For a graphic showing Trump’s impact on federal appeals courts, click: tmsnrt.rs/2PPsGtM )
The part of the hearing focusing on Bade, a magistrate judge from Arizona, and Eric Miller, an attorney in Seattle, lasted only 20 minutes. The two senators present were Orrin Hatch and Mike Crapo, who presided over the hearing and quizzed Bade about the proper role of judges and asked Miller about Native American tribal sovereignty.
The hearing advanced Trump’s goal of quickly filling judicial vacancies. Trump already has appointed 29 judges to federal appeals courts, an unusually quick pace, and has moved some regional appeals courts closer to conservative control in an ideological shift that could benefit his administration.
The other nominees considered on Wednesday were Karin Immergut as a federal district judge in Oregon and Richard Hertling for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which handles legal claims seeking monetary judgments against the U.S. government.
After facing a later vote in the committee, the nominees must be confirmed by the full Senate, controlled 51-49 by the Republicans.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)