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    California Sen. Laphonza Butler makes history as first out LGBTQ Senate Judiciary Committee member
    • October 19, 2023

    Washington  — California Sen. Laphonza Butler will fill the Senate Judiciary Committee seat left empty by the passing of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a history-making move that also gives Democrats back their razor-thin control of the powerful committee tasked with vetting federal judicial nominees.

    Butler, the first known Black lesbian in the Senate, is also the first out LGBTQ member of the Judiciary Committee.

    California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed Butler earlier this month to fill the seat left vacant by Feinstein, a longtime California Democrat who died last month at the age of 90.

    Since Feinstein’s passing, the committee has been at a 9-9 deadlock between Democrats and Republicans, but with the addition of Butler, the one-member majority will enable them to give a thumbs-up to Biden’s judicial nominees without the help of Republicans on the panel. Those nominees will still need to garner 51 votes in the full Senate to secure confirmation.

    For Democrats and progressives, confirming President Joe Biden’s picks has been a key part of their agenda given the fact that Donald Trump reshaped much of the federal judiciary during his four years as president by pushing through scores of conservative judges on lower courts throughout the country and putting three conservative justices on the Supreme Court.

    When Feinstein was ill and away from the Senate earlier this year, the panel was also deadlocked, which led some Democrats to call on her to resign.

    “I think Sen. Butler’s appointment to the Judiciary Committee is really momentous. She gives Chairman Durbin the majority he needs to resume the confirmation of President Biden’s judicial nominees, which needs to be an urgent priority for the Senate,” said Alex Aronson, a former chief counsel to committee member Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

    Aronson added that the process was particularly critical given how successful Trump was “in stocking the courts with far-right movement ideologues” who were boosted by groups like the Federalist Society.

    In total, Congress confirmed 234 Trump judicial nominees during his tenure, according to the American Constitution Society, which tracks the nominations.

    During his more than two and a half years in office, Biden has had 147 of his judicial nominees confirmed, including two federal trial court judges who were approved by the Senate on Tuesday: Julia Kathleen Munley for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and Jennifer L. Hall for the District of Delaware.

    Since Feinstein’s passing, the committee has held one nomination hearing – for Mustafa Taher Kasubhai’s nomination to the district court in Oregon – but has yet to hold a vote on a pending nominee. There are currently six nominees awaiting a committee vote and five nominees who have yet to have a hearing before the panel, according to ACS.

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    Meanwhile, Biden has continued to announce more nominations, with his latest slate reflecting a pledge he made at the start of his presidency to pick diverse candidates for the federal bench.

    “These choices also continue to fulfill the President’s promise to ensure that the nation’s courts reflect the diversity that is one of our greatest assets as a country – both in terms of personal and professional backgrounds,” the White House said in a statement on Wednesday announcing two new nominees to the Northern District of Oklahoma.

    The president said he was nominating Sara E. Hill, a former attorney general for the Cherokee Nation, and John D. Russell, a former trial attorney with the Justice Department’s Tax Division.

    Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Tuesday that Butler would also hold seats on the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, as well as the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and the Rules and Administration Committee.

    ​ Orange County Register