The first of President Trump’s slate of circuit court nominees cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, as Republicans prepared to move swiftly on stocking the federal courts with what backers hope will be an army of conservatives.
The committee approved Judge Amul Thapar, who currently serves on a federal district court in Kentucky, for a seat on the U.S Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. The 11-8 vote sends his nomination to the Senate floor for a final vote.
Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii Democrat, didn’t cast a vote in the committee.
Judge Thapar should be able to win confirmation on the floor given the GOP’s 52-48 edge in the Senate. Since 2013, when Democrats triggered the “nuclear option” to change Senate rules, only a simple majority is needed to approve court nominees, not the previous 60-vote threshold susceptible to filibusters.
Democrats on the committee voted against Judge Thapar, saying he equates campaign donations with speech and is tied to The Federalist Society, which helped Mr. Trump create a list of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees during his campaign.
The committee’s top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, said she was unable to vote for the judge because of a case in which he held that an individual can support an organization by using words, just as one supports an organization by donating money.
“Words and money are, in fact, different,” said Ms. Feinstein.
But committee Chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley said the judge’s decadelong record speaks for itself.
“The judge isn’t against the little guy. He applies the law faithfully,” said Mr. Grassley, Iowa Republican.
Judge Thapar has sat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky for roughly 10 years. He’s the first-ever South Asian Pacific American federal judge, and he will be the second South Asian Pacific American circuit court judge.
He is the first circuit court nomination Mr. Trump has made, and his confirmation process was much less contentious than that of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.
Mr. Trump faced 20 circuit court vacancies when he took office, and he has offered nominees to fill six of them so far. He’s expected to approve the rest of his slate of circuit court picks next month.
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