President Trump nominated a slew of judges Friday to posts on California-based federal courts, ramping up efforts to reshape the judiciary after hitting a milestone earlier this month with the confirmation of the 150th federal judge on his watch.
Two nominations are for the influential San Francisco-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, a long-liberal bench with jurisdiction across the American West whose political makeup has shifted with Trump’s aggressive appointment campaign.
Among the nominees is Patrick Bumatay, a federal prosecutor in the Southern District of California whom Trump nominated last year for the same job. But objections from California Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, over his lack of judicial experience and other issues, derailed the nomination. Trump later nominated Bumatay, who is openly gay, to a district court seat but his name resurfaced over the summer for a possible comeback bid for the Ninth Circuit amid a new vacancy.
While it is traditional for a nominee's home-state senators to give their approval, it is not required, and Trump lately has bypassed the so-called “blue slip” tradition in order to get conservative judges on the bench.
While Democrats have fumed at the tactics, conservatives cheered Trump this month for seeing the 150th federal judge confirmed.
“This is a historic milestone,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement. “As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I will continue to push through highly qualified, conservative judges at all levels of the federal courts.”
Graham and his Republican allies on the committee are likely to be receptive to Trump’s latest picks. Trump also nominated Lawrence VanDyke, a Justice Department official and former Nevada solicitor general, for the Ninth Circuit.
Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the conservative Judicial Crisis Network, praised his record fighting “the overreach by the Obama Administration and its job-killing EPA.”
Trump on Friday announced four other nominees for California District Court posts.
But the Ninth Circuit has been a focal point given the sprawling territory it covers and its record in decades past of liberal-leaning rulings.
Under Trump, the court has shifted more moderate with the addition of seven Trump-appointed judges. Nearly half of the 29 seats are now occupied by GOP-appointed judges. Last year, that number stood at six.
Earlier this month, the court handed Trump a win as it lifted a nationwide injunction on his controversial asylum policy, ruling that for now the injunction should only apply to states within the circuit.
Trump also scored a victory from a California district court on Thursday when a Bush-appointed judge granted a request to block, for now, a law requiring presidential candidates to release tax returns in order to run in the state primaries.
Democrats, though, have accused the Trump administration, along with GOP allies in the Senate, of destroying congressional custom by moving past consultations with home-state senators. Feinstein, in a floor speech over the summer about another Ninth Circuit nomination, said, “This disregard of blue slips represents another breakdown of Senate traditions.”
She said screening candidates for lifetime appointments to ensure they’re qualified is a “critical” task and warned Republicans: “What goes round, comes around.”
The latest nominations also come amid new legal battles between the Trump administration and California. Early Friday afternoon, 23 states banded together to sue the administration in a bid to stop its plan to revoke California’s authority to set strict fuel economy standards.
That suit was filed in a D.C. federal court and does not fall in the Ninth Court, but California Attorney General Xavier Becerra touted prior rulings in his state that upheld California’s standards.
“Two courts have already upheld California’s emissions standards, rejecting the argument the Trump Administration resurrects to justify its misguided Preemption Rule. Yet, the Administration insists on attacking the authority of California and other states to tackle air pollution and protect public health,” he said in a statement.
Fox News’ Gregg Re and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.