President Donald Trump, finding it harder than expected to get his legislative agenda accomplished on Capitol Hill, is looking to pack the courts with conservative jurists.
The latest step in the process came on Tuesday, when the White House unveiled its 12th wave of judicial nominees, US attorneys and US Marshals, a package of 30 people who will now face confirmation battles in the Senate.
Though Trump has scored some legislative victories, most notably tax reform last fall, his legislative agenda has been largely stymied by infighting within the Republican Party and largely uniform opposition by Democrats. In the face of those issues, Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to usher as many of Trump’s judicial picks through the confirmation process, hoping to fill the court system with Republicans whose legacy will survive long after the Trump presidency.
Tuesday’s tranche of nominees includes Paul Matey, a New Jersey hospital executive, and David Porter, a shareholder at the Pittsburgh law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC, for the US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and Britt Grant, a justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, for a spot on the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
The task of getting these nominees approved has fallen primarily to White House counsel Donald McGahn, an embattled member of the Trump White House who has persisted on the inside despite near-constant rumors that his time inside the West Wing could be coming to an end.
McGahn, according to people close to the White House counsel, views these judicial nominations – including the approval of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch last year – as one of his most important tasks, particularly because many of these positions are lifetime appointments.
But like other issues on Capitol Hill, the process of approving judicial nominees has been anything but smooth, a byproduct of a process known as the “blue slip” system which gives members from the minority party significant input into which nominees are confirmed.
The blue slip process dates back to the early 1900s, when the Senate Judiciary Committee began asking senators from a nominee’s home state to state their opinion on the nominee on a blue piece of paper, giving the senators the power to stop certain nominees to the federal bench.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a number of top conservative judicial groups have called on Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley to change the blue slip process, but – so far – the Iowa Republican has declined to do so. Taylor Foy, his spokesman, said in a statement last year that Grassley does not plan to change the process.
McConnell and others have complained that Democrats are abusing the practice, using it to stymie Trump’s right to fill vacancies with his nominees. He has also accused Democrats of slowing down the process on the Senate floor to delay Trump’s ability to pack the courts.
On Tuesday, McConnell pointed to the bipartisan approval of Claria Horn Boom as the US District Judge for the Eastern and Western Districts of Kentucky as proof that the Senate should move faster on nominations.
It is unclear whether the blue slip process will stop nominee unveiled on Tuesday.
Democratic New Jersey Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez both said they would wait to review Matey’s credentials before passing judgment for his nomination.
“While I have my concerns about Mr. Matey, I’ll review the nomination with a fair and open mind just as I review all nominations,” Booker said. “I’ll reserve a final judgment until I have had the opportunity to fully review his record.”
Matey served as deputy chief counsel to former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie from 2010 to 2015, before joining University Hospital in Newark as senior vice president and general counsel. Matey is also a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association, according to the group’s website.
Porter’s nomination has also received considerable pushback from the Alliance for Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group, which noted that Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey has previously opposed Porter’s nomination.
“President Trump’s nomination of David Porter to a federal judgeship is a direct affront to Pennsylvanians, tens of thousands of whom made it clear they were opposed to a judgeship for Porter when it was suggested just a few years ago,” the group said in a statement. “It’s also an affront to Sen. Bob Casey, who recognizes that Porter would be a threat to the rights of Pennsylvanians and millions of other people within the Third Circuit.”