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Debate over Ninth Circuit seats is latest battle in Trump-Senate judicial wars

California Democratic senators protest President Trump's nominees for the consistently liberal circuit court

California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are not happy with President Donald Trump’s Ninth Circuit nominations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris are not happy with President Donald Trump’s Ninth Circuit nominations. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The Senate Judiciary Committee’s first big battle this year, in the recurring judicial wars, is already taking shape.

President Donald Trump announced his intended nominees for three open California-based seats on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Wednesday — and the names do not represent any real compromise with California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

Prominent attorneys Kenneth Lee, Daniel Collins and Daniel Bress are being nominated for the lifetime appeals court seats.

The senators expressed particular concern about Trump’s decision to re-nominate Collins and Lee.

“We even identified candidates selected by the White House we could support to demonstrate our willingness to work cooperatively. Unfortunately, the White House is moving forward with three nominees to a circuit court who have no judicial experience,” Feinstein and Harris said in a joint statement. “The White House’s decision to push these nominees fails to secure consensus on the circuit court.”

On its face, the decision to nominate appellate judges without buy-in from home state senators is not unusual during the Trump administration. But Feinstein is the ranking member of the committee.

Chairman Lindsey Graham has now made clear, however, that he intends to move ahead with the president’s nominees.

“I’m very supportive of the nominees submitted by President Trump to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. These are highly qualified nominees and I am hopeful they will receive wide bipartisan support,” the South Carolina Republican said in a Thursday statement. “These nominations continue a trend by the Trump Administration of selecting highly qualified men and women to serve on the federal bench.”

Conservatives been pushing for Trump to nominate like-minded lawyers for the three seats, rather than compromising with Feinstein on what is regarded as the most consistently liberal circuit court in the country.

Feinstein and Harris said that there was an agreement on a batch of California district court nominees, however.

“In contrast, we have had productive conversations about district court vacancies, and believe we have found a balanced compromise where we will be able to fill the vacancies and support a number of candidates. That is how the process is supposed to work,” they said. “We are frustrated the same resolution was not achieved for the Ninth Circuit and this fundamentally demonstrates the importance of the blue slip. When an administration knows blue slips have to be honored, negotiations can achieve consensus results.”

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