U.S. Senate panel holds first votes on Biden judicial picks of 2023

The U.S. Capitol during afternoon hours in Washington
The U.S. Capitol during afternoon hours in Washington, U.S., February 9, 2022. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
  • Senate Judiciary Committee votes in favor of 15 circuit and district court nominees
  • Panel deadlocks on Anthony Johnstone and Natasha Merle

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday cast its first votes on judicial nominees in 2023 as it agreed to advance 15 candidates for the full Senate's consideration who President Joe Biden re-nominated to the federal bench after they failed to win confirmation in the last Congress.

But the committee deadlocked on two other judicial picks who previously received favorable votes from the panel, as Republicans used what was expected to be their last day having the same number of committee seats as Democrats to slow the nominees' path to confirmation.

That occurred thanks to a delay in the Senate ratifying committee memberships for the new Congress. While Democrats following the midterm elections now have a 51-49 Senate majority, the panel is operating as if it were still 50-50.

When all is settled, the committee will have a slight Democratic edge that will help Biden more smoothly add to his 97 confirmed judicial nominees. But on Thursday, it remained split 11-11, pending the finalization of Republicans' committee rosters, which was expected later that day.

"We're in this in-between moment," said Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the committee's Democratic chairman. He promised to hold new votes later on the two deadlocked nominees, Anthony Johnstone and Natasha Merle.

Seven other nominees who received tied votes in the prior Congress were held over until the next hearing, when Democrats are expected to have their committee majority in place.

Among the four circuit court and 11 district court nominees who did receive favorable votes was Bradley Garcia, a U.S. Justice Department official nominated to join the influential U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

He received a 11-9 vote, as did Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung, nominated to the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Kahn, nominated to the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

DeAndrea Benjamin, a state court judge in South Carolina nominated to join the Richmond, Virginia-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, received a 12-8 vote.

But the panel deadlocked 11-11 on Johnstone, a University of Montana law professor nominated to join the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Just three months ago, he received a 11-10 vote from the same panel.

Thursday's tie vote was due to South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel's top Republican, who voted "present" on Johnstone on Dec. 1 but against him this time.

Merle, the deputy director of litigation at the civil rights organization NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, similarly received an 11-11 vote on her nomination to be judge in the Eastern District of New York.

She received the panel's 12-10 approval in May.

Read more:

Biden renominates another 17 judicial picks; only three not resubmitted

Biden renominates 25 judicial nominees, including longest pending ones

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