WASHINGTON (CN) — Moments after advancing Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett to the full Senate, in an unprecedented vote absent of any Democratic senators, Republicans voted Thursday to clear five more of President Donald Trump’s nominees on their way to the federal bench.
“Mr. Chairman, the votes are 12 yeas and 10 not present,” the clerk told Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham.
Democrats on the committee boycotted the vote, saying they would not provide “further legitimacy” to Barrett’s expected confirmation, just 12 days out from an election that is already underway through early and mail-in voting.
“The rules require two members of the minority to be present to vote anyone out of committee. But Chairman Graham just steamrolled over them,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, assembled on the steps of the Capitol with his fellow Democrats.
But Graham pinned blame across the aisle, accusing Democrats of initiating the degradation of Senate rules when they changed them to require only a simple majority vote — rather than a quorum present — to report district and circuit court nominees out of committee in 2013.
“They started this, not me,” he said at the opening of Thursday’s hearing.
With Democrats absent from the hearing room, GOP senators also unanimously sent to the Senate floor for a final vote four district judge nominees and Trump’s pick for the Court of Federal Claims.
The American Bar Association had rated one of the soon-to-be judges, Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, a Jones Day attorney, as “Not Qualified” to serve on the bench in the Middle District of Florida.
The mark stirred heavy criticism from Democrats early last month, but Barrett’s nomination has seized their full attention in recent weeks.
Graham opened the floor to comments after Thursday’s votes. But GOP senators, seated across from 10 empty seats meant for their Democratic colleagues, turned promptly to the battle over the Supreme Court seat left empty after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. No words were wasted on the lower court nominees.
At Mizelle’s confirmation hearing last month, Graham argued her “Not Qualified” rating from the ABA says “nothing about her capabilities or personal attributes.”
“If the past is any indication of the future, we’re in good shape with Ms. Mizelle,” the chairman said.
Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah argued the association carries no more weight than any other outside body in weighing judicial nominees.
“This is a nominee who has worked really hard. I don’t know how she has packed that much experience into that timeframe. This is an exceptionally qualified nominee,” he said.
Democrats, meanwhile, pressed Mizelle, whose husband Chad Mizelle serves as Trump’s Department of Homeland Security acting general counsel, on her views on police shootings of Black Americans.
“Are these one-off situations, or do they tell us something more important and historic about our system of justice in America?” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois asked.
Not answering directly at first, Mizelle followed up saying: “I appreciate the moment it is in history and I condemn all racism.” But she declined to opine as a prospective judge on the issue of systemic racism raised by Durbin.
The committee also advanced the nominations of Benjamin J. Beaton, to serve in the Western District of Kentucky; Kristi Haskins Johnson, to serve in the Southern District of Mississippi; Taylor B. McNeel, to serve in the Southern District of Mississippi; and Thompson M. Dietz, to be a Court of Federal Claims judge.
The Senate is expected to confirm the nominees in the weeks ahead, with the vote on Barrett scheduled for Monday evening taking priority.