WASHINGTON — The Senate Judiciary Committee considered nominations for five of President Biden’s district court nominees on Wednesday, as the White House continues its aggressive push to fill vacancies throughout the federal court system.
At the outset of the hearing, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, called for bipartisanship in the process. He noted that judicial nominations moved forward in a bipartisan fashion under former President Donald Trump’s tenure.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) the new ranking member of the committee, echoed Durbin’s calls for cross-party cooperation.
“Elections have consequences,” Graham said. “Let’s work together and see if we can get some nominations through in the spirit of what we did in the last Congress.”
His comments are a departure from the approach of the previous ranking member of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who often spoke out against Biden’s nominees, as Reuters noted. Grassley stepped down as ranking member after hitting a term limit under Republican rules.
Three of the nominees considered were new candidates. Orelia Merchant, Biden’s choice for federal court in the Eastern District of New York, and Charnelle Bjelkengren, the nominee for the Eastern District of Washington, had to be renominated per the Constitution after the previous session of Congress adjourned without confirming them.
Throughout the hearing, Senate Democrats highlighted the importance of securing diverse nominations, as both Merchant and Bjelkengren are Black women.
“The Eastern District (is) one of the most diverse districts in the nation,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. “Confirming Merchant will not only add another brilliant legal mind to the bench, it will help ensure that the Eastern District better reflects the diversity of the people it serves.”
The other three nominees – Michael Farbiarz and Robert Kirsch, both for the federal court of New Jersey, and Matthew Brookman for the Southern District of Indiana – were nominated for the first time.
Democrat Cory Booker called the nominees from his home state of New Jersey the “great Jersey boys.”
“In the judicial world, this is the Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi of the legal profession,” Booker said. “(Farbiarz) is truly a man of our state. If you cut him, he bleeds Jersey.”
The tenor of the one-and-a-half-hour hearing was cordial, with some senators asking about the nominees’ views on amendments and legal precedents.
Sen. Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.) asked all five nominees whether they would pledge to apply the law without regard for their personal or political preferences.
“I really focus on First and Sixth Amendment issues,” Ossoff said, adding that he wants to ensure “that everyone who comes before our justice system has equal (access) to representation they’re afforded under the Sixth Amendment.”
The nominations will now need to be discharged from the Judiciary Committee before they can go to the Senate floor for a vote. It’s unclear when this will happen, but Senate Democrats have said they intend to make confirming judges a “priority” during this Congress.