Trump nears new milestone with judicial appointments

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closeThe Ninth Circuit has been a battleground for several of President Trump's effortsVideo

The Ninth Circuit has been a battleground for several of President Trump's efforts

The San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit has been a legal thorn in the president's efforts on immigration, the environment and abortion.

President Trump is on his way to reaching a significant mark in his presidency, as his latest nominees for federal appeals courts go through the confirmation process.

With several potential appeals judges awaiting confirmation, Trump's nominees could soon make up more than a quarter of those serving on the appellate bench. Out of 179 Circuit Court positions, 43 are occupied by Trump picks, with four current vacancies and another five spots opening up due to upcoming retirements.

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“This is an exciting milestone for the president,” Judicial Crisis Network policy director Carrie Severino told Fox News.

While a number of Trump’s picks are filling seats previously held by judges appointed by Republican presidents, many are taking the place of liberal jurists appointed by Democrats. The Ninth Circuit, for example, once known as a staunchly liberal Court of Appeals, is gradually evening out. Trump has already placed six judges on the Ninth Circuit bench, which currently has one vacancy and will have two more in the near future.

Should Trump fill all three spots, he will have chosen nearly a third of the roster with nine out of 29 judges.

Severino described Trump’s appellate nominees as “exceptional,” while stressing their independence.

“That’s the kind of judge America wants,” Severino said, claiming that the ability to select judges for lifetime positions is a significant part of why Trump was elected in 2016.

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Democrats have been fierce in their opposition to several of Trump’s selections. Steven Menashi, who was nominated to the Second Circuit, was grilled during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing over his past writings and his work with the White House counsel’s office. A segment on Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show discussed a law journal article Menashi wrote in 2010, titled "Ethnonationalism and Liberal Democracy." Maddow cited Menashi’s use of the term “ethnonationalism” to suggest he is aligned with white nationalists, alleging he's on the “fringe of racial thinking.”

During questioning, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said that Menashi had faced “unusually personal” and “vicious” attacks.

Menashi denied the allegations, saying, “It’s hurtful and I think it misrepresents what I’ve written.”

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During his hearing, Menashi made it clear that his article was about Israel and how the Jewish state is not out of the norm, because there is a precedent for democratic countries to have a common ethnicity. He said he was not proposing the U.S. should have an ethnically homogeneous society, but noted that U.S. citizens do have a shared identity based on “constitutional traditions."

Menashi also drew criticism from members of both parties when he would not discuss his White House work, leading Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to lose his temper, saying it was "inappropriate" for him to even seek the nomination if he would not answer questions.

The American Bar Association (ABA), which evaluates federal judicial nominees, rated Menashi as “Well Qualified,” its highest mark.

The ABA’s rating system was called into question by Republicans, however, after they issued a scathing letter with a “Not Qualified” rating of Lawrence VanDyke, who was nominated for an upcoming vacancy on the Ninth Circuit.

Trump judicial nominee Lawrence VanDyke brought to tears during Senate hearingVideo

The ABA’s letter cited concerns from unnamed individuals the group interviewed, suggesting that he would not be fair to LGBTQ litigants and that he lacked the proper temperament, knowledge, and work ethic for the role. Republicans accused the ABA of conducting a biased evaluation, as the lead evaluator who conducted interviews once contributed to the campaign of someone who had run against VanDyke for a judicial position.

Additionally, multiple people who were interviewed by the ABA for VanDyke’s evaluation told Fox News that they gave positive reviews and were surprised by the ABA’s findings.

Addressing the accusations in the ABA’s letter, specifically his supposed stance towards the LGBTQ community, VanDyke broke down in tears in the middle of his hearing, denying the allegation.

“No, I did not say that. I do not believe that. It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God. They should all be treated with dignity and respect,” he said.

Despite opposition from the left, Trump’s picks are likely to be confirmed due to the Senate’s Republican majority.

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Mike Davis, president of The Article III Project, which works to help secure the confirmation of Trump’s picks, noted that the president’s success in this area fulfills one of his 2016 campaign promises.

“President Trump has delivered on his promise to American voters,” Davis said, pointing to Trump’s appointments of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, “and an all-time-record number of circuit judges to the critically important federal courts of appeals.”

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