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On Washington: Republicans Escalate Bitter Fight Over Judicial Nominations

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WASHINGTON — In 2011, Michael B. Brennan, then a lawyer in Milwaukee, vigorously defended the right of Wisconsin’s Republican senator to single-handedly block an Obama administration nominee for a federal bench seat in the state. Last week, Mr. Brennan was confirmed as a Trump administration nominee to that very same seat despite vigorous objections by the state’s Democratic senator.

That incongruity is at the heart of what is fast becoming one of the most significant questions on Capitol Hill: How far will Republican senators go in pushing through President Trump’s judicial nominees over the objections of Democrats from states where the potential new judges will preside?

The answer: pretty far.

Mr. Brennan was the second federal appellate court nominee confirmed despite a refusal by one home-state Democrat to consent to the nomination through the longstanding Senate tradition of signing and returning a blue-tinted form — known universally as the blue slip — demonstrating acquiescence in the presidential appointment.

Now the Senate Judiciary Committee could send to the floor a disputed nominee from Oregon who is opposed by both of that state’s senators, a major break with Senate custom. According to the Congressional Research Service, it would be the first time since at least 1979 that a federal judge could be confirmed over the objections of both home-state senators. Democrats believe it could be the first time ever.

But Republicans are making it very clear they are willing to push the institutional envelope while exulting in what they have accomplished to date when it comes to remaking the federal judiciary.

“One-eighth — one-eighth — of the circuit judges in America have been appointed by Donald Trump and confirmed by this Republican Senate,” a triumphant Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said Tuesday after the Senate approved its 21st Trump appeals court judge.

With little else moving on Capitol Hill, Mr. McConnell; the White House; and Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa and the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, have turned confirmation of federal judges into their overriding priority. And in severely weakening the power of the blue slip, they have greatly diminished the ability of Democrats to stop them.

The fight is entering new territory with the pending nomination of Ryan Bounds, a federal prosecutor in Oregon whose nomination to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has moved forward over the objections of Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and


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