Wisconsin nominee confirmed to 7th Circuit seat after party-line vote

With a slim vote along party lines, the U.S. Senate confirmed Michael Brennan to the Wisconsin seat on the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday, filling the longest vacancy in the federal judiciary.

Brennan, a former Wisconsin state court judge and ally of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, was confirmed to the Chicago-based appellate court following a 49-to-46 vote in the U.S. Senate. Indiana Senators joined their respective parties with Sen. Todd Young, a Republican, voting yes and Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, voting no. 

The nomination of Brennan to the 7th Circuit sparked controversy, in part, because the Senate Judiciary Committee broke the traditional “blue slip rule” by giving him a hearing despite his nomination not having the support of both Wisconsin senators.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Democrat, did not support Brennan’s nomination and voted no on his confirmation. Brennan is now the first appeals court nominee in nearly 40 years to be confirmed without the support of both home-state senators.

Speaking from the floor the Senate, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer condemned the decision to abandon the blue slip tradition, calling it an “abject breach of senatorial courtesy that both parties have long respected.”

He asserted the Wisconsin seat has been kept open for so long because the Republican Senator withheld his blue slips to prevent a nominee from getting a hearing. The Democrats honored the tradition but now, he said, the Republicans are discarding a custom that forces consultation and consensus.

“But if we don’t take a step back now, the Senate will soon become either a rubber stamp or a graveyard for presidential nominees rendering our advise and consent nearly meaningless,” Schumer said.

Following the Senate vote, two nonprofit organizations again raised concerns about Brennan and the process used to get him confirmed.

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Brennan did not get the support of the Wisconsin judicial selection commission because his judicial philosophy and anti-civil rights record are “so extreme.”

“Every senator who voted for Brennan’s confirmation has voted to diminish the role of each senator to be a check on this and future presidents,” Gupta said in a statement. “President (Donald) Trump is packing the courts to further his extreme agenda, and we call on all senators to resist this dangerous effort with all remaining tools at their disposal.”

The Alliance for Justice echoed Schumer, faulting the Republican majority for disregarding the rules and norms that enable all senators to advise on and consent to judicial nominees.

“This is an unconscionable, naked power grab,” Nan Aron, AFJ president, said in a statement. “Senators who care about our core constitutional values must vote no on future Trump judicial nominees unless and until Republicans restore bipartisan consultation and mutual respect to the process.”

Brennan’s confirmation vote was proceeded by another controversial vote in the Senate Wednesday, which ended the debate over his nomination. The motion to invoke cloture followed party lines with 49 Republicans voting yes and 47 Democrats voting no.

Young joined his Republican colleagues in approving the motion to invoke cloture. Donnelly was not in Washington and did not vote.

Donnelly’s spokesman Michael Campbell explained, “Sen. Donnelly was in Terre Haute and honored to have been given the opportunity to speak at the funeral services for Patrolman Rob Pitts, a veteran of the Terre Haute Police Department and Hoosier hero who was killed in the line of duty last week while serving his community.”

Meanwhile on Thursday, the White House announced another group of nominees to be federal judges, U.S. attorneys and U.S. Marshals. Among that group was Todd Nukes of Indiana who has been nominated to serve as the U.S. Marshal for the Northern District of Indiana.

He joined the U.S. Marshals Service in 1990 and has been acting U.S. Marshal for the Northern Indiana District since 2015. Nukes has served on numerous USMS committees and boards throughout his career and taught courses on judicial security at the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada. Currently he serves on the executive board of the Indiana High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program.

Nuke holds a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Ball State University and worked in the Grant County Sheriff’s Department prior to joining the U.S. Marshal service.

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