The Senate confirmed Kenneth K. Lee to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday, giving President Trump reinforcements against the most consistently liberal circuit in the country.
The California lawyer cleared the Senate by a vote of 52-45.
His approval means 10 GOP-appointed active judges are on the circuit, compared with 16 Democratic appointees. That’s up from a 7-18 split at the beginning of Mr. Trump’s term, and there are still three vacancies to be filled.
Mr. Lee won a seat traditionally filled by a California pick — which outraged both of the state’s Democratic senators, who tried to sink his nomination by not returning their blue slips, the Senate’s home-state courtesy tradition.
“There was no need to proceed with Mr. Lee’s nomination over our objections,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat. “Lee’s record shows that he is far outside the legal mainstream.”
She and Sen. Kamala D. Harris objected to Mr. Lee’s credentials on everything from civil rights to labor rights.
“I called for Lee to be withdrawn months ago after he failed to disclose 75+ writings in his record,” Ms. Harris tweeted this week when the chamber began debating the nominee.
“He shouldn’t even be up for a vote today,” she added.
In 2003, the nominee, as a practicing attorney, criticized the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold affirmative action in college admissions. His opposition to race being considered as a factor for college applicants led the Congressional Black Caucus to write a letter opposing his confirmation.
During his hearing, Mr. Lee was peppered with questions concerning his college writings in which he defended a professor accused of sexual misconduct and said “nine out of 10 people with AIDS are gay or drug users.” He apologized and said his views since college have changed.
Republicans said Mr. Lee was rated unanimously well-qualified by the American Bar Association and has earned his place on the bench.
Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, who attended law school with Mr. Lee and introduced him at his hearing, said the nominee is “not only a brilliant lawyer, but more important, he’s a man of high character.”
Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, said Democrats’ opposition was likely a result of the Senate’s spat over home-state courtesy.
“But I think he’s a person well-qualified,” Mr. Lankford said.
Traditionally, judicial nominees do not receive a confirmation hearing or a vote without one of the home state senator’s blue slips. Republicans have said they will respect the tradition when it comes to the lower district courts, but won’t allow Democrats to use blue slips as a veto over the president’s nominees for the appeals courts.
The Senate confirmed Michael Truncale, a Texas attorney, earlier this week for a seat on a federal district court in eastern Texas.
Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican, was the only GOP lawmaker to vote against him, saying he couldn’t support Mr. Truncale after he called former President Barack Obama an “un-American imposter.”
During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Truncale said his 2011 remarks were made out of frustration.
On Thursday, the Senate is expected to confirm Wendy Vitter, wife of former Sen. David Vitter, to a federal court seat in eastern Louisiana.
Ms. Vitter stirred controversy when she declared during her confirmation hearing last year that she is pro-life.
Democrats have said they will oppose her confirmation because she’ll be hostile to women’s rights.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said all three judicial nominees up for consideration this week are extremists unfit for the federal bench.
“We have a parade of narrow ideologues, and that’s not who should be on the bench because they will make law rather than interpret the law,” Mr. Schumer said.
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