Critics assail Biden plan to nominate GOP abortion opponent to judgeship

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U.S. Representative John Yarmuth. Roberto Schmidt/Pool via REUTERS

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  • Representative John Yarmuth says Biden plans to nominate Chad Meredith
  • Yarmuth says nomination part of "larger deal" with Senator Mitch McConnell

(Reuters) - President Joe Biden is facing criticism from progressives after a Democratic lawmaker in Kentucky and the state's governor said the White House was planning to nominate a Republican lawyer opposed to abortion to a federal judgeship in the state.

Representative John Yarmuth in a statement late Wednesday said Chad Meredith's potential nomination appeared to be part of "some larger deal on judicial nominations" between Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

He said that was apparent given that there are not yet any open seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky for Biden to fill and vowed to oppose the nomination of Meredith, a former state solicitor general.

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White House staff informed Yarmuth of the decision, his spokesperson said.

"I strongly oppose this deal and Meredith being nominated for the position," Yarmuth said in a statement. "The last thing we need is another extremist on the bench."

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear told reporters Thursday his team learned of the "indefensible" decision last week.

Liberal legal groups like the American Constitution Society and Demand Justice expressed outrage about the news about Meredith, a Federalist Society member who defended Kentucky abortion restrictions on the state's behalf.

The news, first reported by the Courier-Journal in Louisville, came days after the U.S. Supreme Court on Friday overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized women's constitutional right to abortion.

"At this time when abortion rights are under assault, there's no deal worth cutting that would elevate another anti-abortion rights extremist to the federal courts," Demand Justice Executive Director Brian Fallon said in a statement.

It was unclear what, if any, deal Biden and McConnell have struck. The White House had no comment. McConnell's representatives did not respond to requests for comment, nor did Meredith, now of counsel at Squire Patton Boggs.

Biden on Wednesday announced his 103rd and 104th circuit and district court nominees, including a pick for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Delaware Supreme Court Justice Tamika Renee Montgomery-Reeves.

While the Senate has confirmed 68 district and circuit court nominees, progressives have fretted that time is running out to confirm more before November's midterms, when Republican could retake the Senate.

John Collins, a law professor at George Washington University, said Biden could be seeking a deal to avoid an en mass blockade of his nominees if they reclaim it.

"I'm sure it won’t be limited to Meredith, either—it’ll probably be a package of red state nominees," he said.

(NOTE: This story has been updated with comment from Kentucky's governor.)

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.