The federal appeals court nomination of John B. Nalbandian, who faced scrutiny for refusing to answer questions about Roe v. Wade during his confirmation hearing, advanced to the Senate floor April 19 by the narrowest of margins.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also unanimously approved the nominations of Michael Y. Scudder and federal district Judge Amy J. St. Eve to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as well as three district court nominees.

It’s not clear when the full Senate will vote on this slate of nominees, who all were appointed by President Donald Trump.

The record-setting speed at which Trump’s judicial nominees have been confirmed has slowed in 2018, despite a slight possibility of Republicans losing the Senate in November midterms.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has shown he’s willing to threaten the Senate with weekend work if needed to confirm nominees.

Roe Question Dodged

Nalbandian’s nomination to the Sixth Circuit cleared the Judiciary Committee by a 11-10 vote.

At his confirmation hearing March 7, he refused to say whether Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court decision that established abortion as a constitutional right, was rightly decided.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said he was confused about why Nalbandian was able to say that two landmark civil rights decisions— Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia—were rightly decided, but not Roe.

Nalbandian is a partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, Cincinnati, and clerked for Judge Jerry E. Smith of the Fifth Circuit.

Bipartisan Support

On the Seventh Circuit nominations, St. Eve and Scudder both are from Illinois and received support from that state’s Democratic senators.

St. Eve, of the Northern District of Illinois, is a George W. Bush appointee and has presided over more than 120 trials.

Scudder is a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, Chicago.

At his confirmation hearing, Scudder received praise for winning several awards for pro bono work.

District Court Nominees

The three district court nominees who advanced were:

  • Kari A. Dooley, nominated to the District of Connecticut, by a 19-2 vote;


  • Dominic W. Lanza, nominated to the District of Arizona, by a 16-5 vote; and


  • Charles J. Williams, nominated to the Northern District of Iowa, by a 19-2 vote.

Mueller Bill Defended

Republican and Democratic senators at the Judiciary Committee meeting also emphasized the importance of a bill, S. 2644, that would effectively protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s job as controversy swirls around his expanding probe of Trump’s presidential campaign.

Consideration of the measure was held over until next week. But Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he would move forward with it despite McConnell’s statement that it won’t reach the Senate floor. McConnell says it’s not necessary.

“Obviously the views of the majority leader are important to consider, but they” don’t govern “what happens here” in the committee, Grassley said.

Two former prosecutors stressed the importance of prosecutorial independence: Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said the bill was important, but not because he thinks Trump would try to fire Mueller.

“I trust this president on this issue,” Crapo said. “What I don’t trust are future presidents that I don’t know yet.”

The committee did approve a bill that would make make threats against religious property a federal crime, S. 994. Current law limits criminal prosecution to acts that damage religious property or obstruct religious expression.

To contact the reporter on this story: Patrick L. Gregory in Washington at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at jkamens@bloomberglaw.com