The U.S. Senate has confirmed two conservative Justice Department lawyers to posts on a California-based appeals court that President Donald Trump has tagged as a liberal bastion.
The two nominees won seats on the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers a wide swath of Western states from Arizona to Alaska, despite sharp opposition from their home-state senators.
The 9th Circuit handles cases of high interest to the Trump administration, such as immigration and detention and famously rejected Trump’s proposed travel ban on Muslim-majority countries. The Supreme Court later upheld the ban.
President Donald Trump has called the 9th Circuit quote a “big thorn in our side” and “a complete and total disaster.”
Lawrence VanDyke, a deputy assistant attorney general from Nevada, and Patrick Bumatay, a federal prosecutor from California, were approved in separate votes this week.
Nevada Democratic senators Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., opposed both nominees. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., voted against VanDyke but was absent for the vote on Bumatay. She has spoken out against his nomination. In separate speeches on the Senate floor, Rosen and Cortez Masto said that despite serving four years as Nevada’s solicitor general, VanDyke’s qualifications are inadequate and his ties to Nevada minimal. VanDyke, 47, served as solicitor general in Montana and assistant solicitor general in Texas before moving to Nevada in 2015. Feinstein criticized both newly confirmed judges, saying both men had troubling records. Bumatay acknowledged working on the Trump administration’s policy of separating families at the U.S.-Mexico border, Feinstein said, while VanDyke has taken “extreme positions” on a range of issues.
Trump’s nomination of VanDyke “sets a dangerous precedent for the Senate and would allow future administrations to nominate virtual outsiders to communities across the country over senators’ objections,″ Cortez Masto said. She and Rosen called VanDyke an extreme partisan and said he has a record of using cases to advance an ideological agenda.
Liberal groups have criticized VanDyke as a zealot who opposes gun regulations and poses a threat to women and the LGBT community. Democrats and other critics cited a letter from the American Bar Association rating VanDyke “not qualified” and calling him “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules.″