President Trump announced a new slate of judicial picks from California, moving Wednesday to head off a brewing conservative rebellion over reports the White House was considering striking a deal with Democratic senators to water down his list.
The new list includes three nominees for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the liberal-leaning court that oversees the West Coast, Alaska and Hawaii, and which has been a frequent target of Mr. Trump’s ire. The president also named four picks for district judgeships in California.
The announcement came after conservatives said they feared the president was working on a deal with Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala D. Harris, California’s two Democrats, to submit a consensus list that wouldn’t dramatically shift the court’s ideological balance.
Mr. Trump’s list should put those fears to rest.
Two of the appeals court nominees — Daniel P. Collins and Kenneth Kiyul Lee — were names he’d submitted last year, while a third, Daniel A. Bress, is considered a rising star.
“We are relieved to see that the White House has decided to move forward with a list of extraordinarily qualified nominees,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network.
The White House did appear to have made one concession to the Democrats, demoting Patrick J. Bumatay, who had been nominated to the appeals court last year, and instead slotting him for a district court seat.
Mr. Bumatay, a federal prosecutor, is Filipino and would have been the first openly gay judge on the 9th Circuit. He’d also been a particular target for Ms. Feinstein and Ms. Harris, though.
Now Mr. Trump wants him to sit on the Southern District of California, a trial court seat.
The president also nominated Mark C. Scarsi, Jeremy B. Rosen and Stanley Blumenfeld to judgeships in the Central District of California.
Ms. Feinstein and Ms. Harris said they were disappointed in the White House’s selection for the 9th Circuit.
“The White House is moving forward with three nominees to a circuit court who have no judicial experience,” they said in a joint statement.
They also said Mr. Lee has controversial views on affirmative action and voting rights, while raising concerns with Mr. Collins’ temperament. The two senators also took issue with Mr. Bress, who lives in D.C. — not California.
The two lawmakers had been angling for more of a say in the president’s decision-making.
In a letter sent to the White House in November, they suggested names the two Democrats would be willing to accept for the three circuit court seats designated for Californians. They named California Supreme Court Judge James Rogan, appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, appointed by President Obama. They said a third candidate could “be further agreed upon.”
The senators said the White House had struck a similar deal with Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, where the senators got to pick one judge and Mr. Trump got to pick one judge to fill a couple of vacancies on an appeals court.
“For the Ninth Circuit where there are three vacancies, this would involve our selecting a candidate from the White House list; the White House selecting a candidate form our list for the Ninth Circuit; and further discussions on a third nominee that both parties would agree on,” the letter added.
Word of the deal-making roiled conservative circles this week.
Sen. David Perdue, a Georgia Republican close to Mr. Trump, said he would call and try to scuttle the negotiations.
“Why do we need to do a deal? This is totally within our purview. We can do this with 51 votes, and we’ve shown that we can do that. We stuck together as a Republican caucus in the Senate and delivered results for the president. And he has sent up really good candidates,” Mr. Perdue told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on Wednesday morning.
Conservatives see the 85 federal court judges confirmed during the president’s first two years as Mr. Trump’s most important accomplishment.
They’ve also been eagerly anticipating reshaping the 9th Circuit, regularly rated the most liberal circuit in the country. The circuit has been the home of numerous anti-Trump rulings on everything from the president’s travel ban to his crackdown on sanctuary cities to his attempt to phase out the Obama-era DACA deportation amnesty.
There are currently six vacancies on the 9th Circuit, with three designated for California picks, and the others for Arizona, Oregon and Washington.
Getting the California judges confirmed puts the president on a collision course with Ms. Feinstein, who is the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee and who has repeatedly voiced concerns about the need for the panel to defer to home-state senators on judicial picks.
Under a Senate tradition, senators are given a chance to show whether they approve of a judge picked from their state by returning a “blue slip” signifying acquiescence.
Some, though not all, past committee chairmen have declined to advance nominees without both home-state senators’ blue slips in hand.
GOP lawmakers, though, say that gives anti-Trump senators an unfair veto over his picks, and the Republican-led Senate has been processing federal appeals court nominees without deferring to blue-slip objections.
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