Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is coming under pressure from conservatives on his panel and outside Congress to slow down consideration of President Biden’s judicial nominees.
Graham has voted for more of Biden’s nominees than any other Republican on the Judiciary Committee, something that is coming under scrutiny from conservatives after Democrats this week celebrated the 100th successful confirmation of a Biden judicial nominee.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Republicans shouldn’t have let Democrats confirm so many Biden nominees to the federal courts when the Senate was evenly split during Biden’s first two years in office.
“The truth is the leadership squandered a 50-50 Senate. They could have at the committee level made a major push to vote together and to stop at least the circuit court nominees. Every single one of them would have required a discharge petition. We didn’t do that,” Hawley told The Hill.
“There was no concerted effort made whatsoever,” he added. “Say what you want about [Democratic Judiciary Committee Chairman] Dick Durbin [D-Ill.] but he has not taken his eye off the ball. He’s had help from Republicans.”
Senate Democrats are well ahead of the pace set by Republicans when they controlled the Senate during former President Trump’s term in office. Senate Republicans didn’t confirm the 100th judge appointed by Trump until May of 2019 — about three months later than when Biden hit the milestone.
“I think it’s a good time near the beginning of this Congress to go back and look at the last Congress and compare that to what happened in the previous administration and figure out if we’re needlessly accelerating the pace at which they’re being confirmed,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), another member of the Judiciary Committee.
Graham told The Hill Thursday that there’s not much he can do to stop Biden’s nominees because Democrats control an 11-10 majority on Judiciary Committee.
“They got the votes. Elections matter. We’ll fight when it makes sense,” he said. “We were accused of having a conveyor belt” of Trump judicial nominees when Republicans controlled the Senate.
“This idea you get everything you want and they don’t get what they want when they’re in like circumstance, doesn’t work,” he said.
Graham said he would “pick and choose” his battles wisely and explained, “I have a habit of trying to honor district court judges,” alluding to the deference he gives to fellow senators who try to fill district court vacancies in their home states with judges who are likely to be palatable to their constituents.
The New York Times reported at the end of December that Graham had voted for 107 of the 126 Biden nominees that came before the committee, far more often than any other Republican on the panel.
Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) voted for 50 nominees at the committee level, while Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee in 2021 and 2022, voted for 40 and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) voted for 30, according to The Times.
Lee noted that when Democrats were in the Senate minority under President Trump, “they slowed it down as much as they possibly could, and as a result we didn’t get as many through as we could have.”
“We’ve got the president using the bully pulpit to mischaracterize Republican senators and their position. We’ve got the president nominating far-left-wing zealots to the bench, many of whom lack the professional qualifications for the job,” he said.
“It is deeply disappointing to me we have confirmed as many as we have,” he said.
Lee pointed out that even when Republicans controlled 50 Senate seats during Biden’s first two years in office, Vice President Kamala Harris only had to come to Capitol Hill a few times to break a tie on a judicial nominee.
“It was very unusual that we even were in a posture where the vice president had to come to break the tie vote. I don’t think we’ve stopped a single judicial nominee thus far. So that is concerning,” he said.
Carrie Severino, the president of the Judicial Crisis Network, a leading conservative advocacy group that opposes what it views as activist liberal judges, criticized Graham last week after he broke with every other Republican on the Judiciary Committee to advance 12 of Biden’s judicial nominees.
“If the tables were turned, it’s hard to imagine a scenario where a Democrat would break ranks like this,” Severino tweeted.
“I hope that what we saw last week is not a preview of what we can expect from Graham as ranking member for the next two years,” she added.
Graham has since voted against all four Biden nominees to circuit courts and against nine of 20 district court nominees, according to data provided by the Judicial Crisis Network.
Graham voted against Nancy Abudu, Biden’s nominee to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, Rachel Bloomekatz, Biden’s pick for the 6th Circuit, Anthony Devos Johnstone, Biden’s nominee to the 9th Circuit, and Julie Rikelman, the president’s choice to serve on the 1st Circuit.
All four nominees advanced out of committee by party line votes of 11-10.
Severino, however, took Graham to task on Wednesday for not taking a tougher approach to questioning New Hampshire attorney Michael Delaney, whom Biden has nominated to serve on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston.
Delaney has come under fire for representing St. Paul’s School, an elite private high school in New Hampshire, against a lawsuit brought by female student who was sexually assaulted on campus when she was 15.
“Numerous Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee voiced … concerns during the hearing today. But the committee’s ranking member, @LindseyGrahamSC, vigorously and inexplicably defended Delaney,” Severino tweeted.
“Perplexingly, Sen. Graham emphasized that Delaney was highly recommended by former U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte [R-N.H.] Graham preemptively rehabilitated Delaney, noting his letters of support in anticipation of the pointed questions that would follow from his fellow Republicans,” she wrote.
Other Republicans on the committee including Hawley and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) grilled Delaney over his work.
Hawley slammed Delaney’s effort to strip the young plaintiff’s anonymity in the case, which he called “an attempt to put her squarely into the media spotlight.”
Cruz said Delaney did “a lousy job representing his client” by adopting such an aggressive legal strategy.
Graham later told The Hill he was “proud” of Republicans on his panel who ask tough questions of nominees.
“They’ve asked really good questions. Sen. Hawley has done a great job of questioning nominees,” he said.
But Graham said he has to pay attention to “reality,” which is Democrats “have 51 votes.”
He said any delaying tactics employed now against Biden nominees will come back to hurt Republicans when they control the White House.
“Anything we do, they can do. So when we’re in charge and we want to go faster, anything we do, they’ll do. So this whole Middle East politics with judges needs to stop,” he said.