The Senate on Thursday filled the first federal appeals court vacancy in more than a year, promoting a trial court judge who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar of Kentucky was confirmed for the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by a 52-44 vote. Thapar was the first judge nominated by President Donald Trump to a district or appeals court.
There are about 120 court vacancies now, with Senate Republicans having slowed confirmations toward the end of President Barack Obama's term.
The last appeals court nominee to be confirmed: U.S. District Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo in January 2016 for the 3rd Circuit after a wait of more than 400 days.
Campaigning against Thapar's nomination were liberal groups such as the Alliance for Justice, which called the nominee an "ultraconservative" judge favored by The Federalist Society. That conservative group helped advise Trump on his list of potential Supreme Court nominees. Thapar was on the list, but Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, an appeals court judge who was confirmed for the high court in April.
The Alliance for Justice also said Thapar's rulings allowed too much money in the political system and were too harsh on some criminals.
A liberal senator, Democrat Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, argued that Thapar was in the mold of Gorsuch and would "tilt the scales of justice in favor of the rich and powerful."
McConnell, R-Ky., countered by saying Thapar had "a reputation as a qualified judge with an impressive legal mind."
Thapar was nominated by President George W. Bush in 2007 to be a judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky. When he was confirmed in the Senate by voice vote, he became the first South Asian-American federal judge in U.S. history.
Earlier, he was the U.S. attorney for Eastern Kentucky.