Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are accusing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of endangering the health of members of Congress and Capitol Hill employees for political gain as the Kentucky Republican presses forward with plans to reconvene the chamber next week for the sole purpose of confirming more right-wing judges—including his unqualified 38-year-old protégé.
"McConnell is calling the Senate back in, ignoring D.C.'s stay at home order, and putting thousands of Capitol employees at risk," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.). "Not to do oversight of Trump's pandemic response. Not to pass a new relief bill. But to ram through more conservative judges."
"Instead of focusing on Covid-19, Republicans have decided to prioritize stacking our federal courts with conservative ideologues. We should all be alarmed."
—Vanita Gupta, Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
McConnell made clear in an interview last week that resuming rapid-fire confirmations of President Donald Trump's judicial nominees will be the Senate's top priority when it reconvenes Monday, despite the desperate need for additional relief for frontline workers and the unemployed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cause mass layoffs across the nation.
"The current plan is to go back in session on May the 4th," McConnell told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt on April 22. "I haven't seen anything that would discourage me from doing that. And as soon as we get back in session, we'll start confirming judges again. We need to have hearings, and we need to confirm judges."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said on Twitter Wednesday that instead of advancing "real solutions to the nation's hardship and heartbreak," McConnell is "recklessly endangering Capitol workers and others for pure partisan politics."
The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), announced Wednesday that despite opposition from every Democratic member of the panel, it plans to hold a nomination hearing on May 6 for Justin Walker, Trump's pick for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Walker, a McConnell ally with ties to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, was rated "not qualified" by the American Bar Association when Trump nominated him last year to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. The Republican-controlled Senate disregarded the ABA rating and confirmed Walker last October, and now the judge is on track for a promotion.
Politico reported Thursday that McConnell "is gambling that 100 senators can safely meet on the Senate floor and throughout the Capitol complex. Many of them will travel across the country for the Senate's reopening, risking [Covid-19] exposure on airplanes and in airports."
Mitch McConnell cares more about ushering his unqualified 38 year-old crony onto one of the country’s highest courts than about ensuring Americans’ health in the middle of a pandemic.https://t.co/pcEaEeA8mY
— Demand Justice (@WeDemandJustice) April 28, 2020
In addition to Walker, the Senate next week is also expected to quickly advance the nomination of Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Cory Wilson to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Confirmation of Walker and Wilson would leave no more vacancies at the circuit court level.
Late Wednesday, Trump—who is responsible for picking around one in five current U.S. federal judges—announced his intent to nominate Aileen Mercedes Cannon to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida and Dirk Paloutzian to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
"Instead of focusing on Covid-19, Republicans have decided to prioritize stacking our federal courts with conservative ideologues," Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, tweeted Wednesday. "We should all be alarmed."