Senate Targets Lower Court Picks as Appellate Action Stalls

  • Republicans are seeking votes on dozens of judge nominees
  • Goal: Get Trump’s total as high as possible by end of the year

Republican leaders will be asking Democrats for help confirming enough judges to bring President Donald Trump’s grand total to 100 or more by the end of the year.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said he has 30 district court nominees in mind for quick action. Appellate court appointments will have to wait until the 116th Congress, he said.

Republican leaders may offer to include judicial picks in states represented by Democrats, including some who were originally nominated by President Barack Obama. “There are a lot of judges awaiting votes and both Republicans and Democrats want them,” said Grassley.

Photo by Zach Gibson (Getty Images)
Sen. Chuck Grassley

Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), for instance, wants all three of the judges he backed for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois to be confirmed this year.

“This is how the process is supposed to work,” Durbin said after those nominees won bipartisan support in committee.

If Democrats agree to support a package of nominees, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-Ky.) won’t have to worry about a “no” vote from Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), who’s opposing judicial nominees until the Senate considers legislation (S. 2644) that would shield Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election.


In the next Congress, Grassley will become Finance Committee chairman, and will no longer be in charge of vetting judicial nominees and moving them through the confirmation process. Reducing more of the vacancies on the federal bench would be a final accomplishment at the conclusion of his Judiciary chairmanship.

The Senate has confirmed 30 of Trump’s appeals court nominees, two Supreme Court justices, and 53 lower-court judges.

With more than 30 on the calendar after committee approval, Republican leaders are within striking distance of bringing Trump’s grand total to 100 or more.

Grassley said he’ll also be trying to negotiate deals with Democrats to get a package of U.S. attorneys and U.S. marshals out of committee without a vote, with a goal of floor action later this month.


Among the nominations that might be included in a year-end deal is that of
Mary McElroy, who was nominated in September 2015 to serve as district court judge in the District of Rhode Island.

Nominated that same month was Stephanie Gallagher to be a judge in the District of Maryland.

Grassley’s committee reported out both nominees, but since the Senate didn’t act they were returned to the White House in early 2017 when Obama’s term ended. Trump renominated them at the urging of home state senators.

Nominations pending at the end of the current Congress will get sent back to the White House. Those that are renominated will again be referred to the Judiciary Committee, where Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is in line to be chairman.

Grassley said he expects Thomas Farr, Trump’s nominee to serve as a federal district court judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, will be among those sent back at year’s end.

Besides Flake, Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) opposed confirmation of the nominee, who faced allegations of helping to write and defend laws seeking to disenfranchise African American voters in North Carolina.

Farr Judicial Nomination Likely Dead for Year, Grassley Says

To contact the reporter on this story: Nancy Ognanovich in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Katherine Rizzo at; Bennett Roth at