A gavel sits on a desk inside the Court of Appeals at the new Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center, which celebrated its official opening on Monday Jan. 14, 2013, in Denver. 
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

Why two of Trump’s judicial nominees are suddenly in trouble

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/11/19, 9:52 PM ET

Trump's latest 'doozie' judge nominee struggles at confirmation

Rachel Maddow shares video of Donald Trump judicial nominee Steven Menashi struggling to answer (or avoid answering) questions before the Senate Judiciary Committee at his unusually expedited confirmation hearing.
As a rule, the Republicans’ judicial pipeline works with remarkable efficiency. Partisan operatives tell Donald Trump who to nominate; the White House sends the nominees to Capitol Hill, and the Republican-led Senate serves as a rubber stamp. The result is a largely successful initiative to move the entire federal judiciary to the right.

As regular readers know, however, there are occasional exceptions. A small handful of Trump nominees have been derailed by intra-party divisions, racial controversies, or humiliating incompetence exposed during the confirmation process.

Will the list of failed nominees grow longer? It’s a distinct possibility.

We talked earlier this week about Steven Menashi, one of the president’s far-right lawyers, who’s been nominated for the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, despite a tough-to-defend record of radicalism that includes an argument about democratic countries working better when everyone is of the same ethnicity.

As Rachel noted on the show the other day, Menashi’s confirmation hearing this week could’ve gone better. Politico reported on the bipartisan disappointment with him:

Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday castigated President Donald Trump’s nominee to the powerful Second Circuit Court of Appeals for dodging their questions as well as his prior controversial writings.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) in particular chided Steven Menashi for not being more forthcoming during his confirmation hearing after the nominee wouldn’t provide specifics on how or if he helped shape Trump’s immigration policy. Menashi is currently associate counsel to the president.

At one point, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) added, “Counsel, you’re a really smart guy but I wish you’d be more forthcoming.”

Whether this will be enough to derail Menashi’s nomination – which, under the blue-slip rule, shouldn’t really exist since both of New York’s Democratic senators oppose him – remains to be seen, but he didn’t do himself any favors during his confirmation hearing.

Meanwhile, an entirely different Trump judicial nominee is in trouble for a very different reason. Politico reported late yesterday:

Sen. Ted Cruz will oppose President Donald Trump’s nominee for the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Halil Suleyman “Sul” Ozerden, a major setback for the embattled nomination.

Cruz (R-Texas) has informed the White House and colleagues this week that he will oppose Ozerden, according to three people familiar with the Judiciary Committee’s internal dynamics. That conservative opposition places in doubt the future of Ozerden, who is a close friend of acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and whose nomination Mulvaney pushed over the objections of the White House Counsel’s office.

The main sticking point with Ozerden appears to be a 2012 case in which the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi challenged the Affordable Care Act’s policy on contraceptive coverage. The Obama administration filed a motion to dismiss the case and Ozerden agreed, concluding at the time that the regulation was still in the process of being amended and was therefore not yet ripe for adjudication.

For some on the right, that means the Mississippi jurist was insufficiently opposed to “Obamacare.”

Ozerden’s fate is not yet sealed, and he received a boost this week with an endorsement from Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also plans to support him.

But Cruz’s opposition doesn’t do Ozerden any favors, and he may yet join a very small club of Trump judicial nominees rejected by the Republican-led Senate.