Letter: Nominate Ong for Southern District of Indiana again

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By Carl Tobias

In February 2016, President Barack Obama nominated Winfield Ong, who has served as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Indiana for more than 20 years, to a vacancy on the Southern District. Ong is a highly qualified, moderate nominee, whom Indiana Sens. Dan Coats (R) and Joe Donnelly (D) powerfully supported. In June 2016, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved Ong without dissent. Nevertheless, he languished on the floor until his nomination expired, mainly because Republicans refused to permit his confirmation debate and vote.

Because Ong is a strong, mainstream nominee and the Southern District of Indiana needs this opening filled, President Donald Trump must renominate — and the Senate should confirm — him.

The District presently experiences one vacancy in five active judgeships. This means that the court lacks 20 percent of its active judicial contingent, which complicates swift, economical and fair dispute resolution and imposes greater pressure on the court’s judges.

On Feb. 4, 2016, President Obama nominated Ong. The chief executive lauded his excellent legal career, voicing confidence that Ong “will serve the American people with distinction.” The White House press release declared that Ong had served as an assistant U.S. attorney since 1996 and as criminal chief since 2014.

Nonetheless, the Judiciary Committee only convened Ong’s hearing in May 2016. The Indiana senators introduced him, praised Ong’s superb qualifications and urged prompt Senate confirmation. That session progressed smoothly, and the members who posed questions appeared satisfied with Ong’s answers. On June 16, 2016, the committee reported Ong on a voice vote after minimal discussion and without controversy.

After June, Ong waited for months on a Senate debate and vote. Senate GOP leaders claimed that they were returning the upper chamber to “regular order.” However, Ong and many other well-qualified, consensus nominees languished for months awaiting ballots. The Indiana senators requested a swift floor vote, yet Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) did not set it. Numerous Democratic senators pursued unanimous consent to vote regarding Ong and 19 remaining district nominees who needed final votes, but other members objected.

Ong’s renomination and confirmation can be achieved rather easily. Sen. Todd Young (R) and Sen. Donnelly should urge President Trump to promptly nominate Ong again, just as he recently renominated five other experienced, moderate Obama nominees who had previously earned committee approval as Ong did.

Winfield Ong is a fine, consensus nominee who deserves appointment, while the District requires all of its active judges to deliver justice. Thus, President Trump should promptly renominate Ong, and the Senate must rapidly confirm him.•

Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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