In a year when partisan politics has hamstrung the judicial confirmation process, Senate Judiciary Committee counsel Jeremy Paris had to keep nominees on course. Paris, chief counsel for nominations and oversight and a member of Senator Patrick Leahy’s staff since 2005, has been the go-between for federal chief judges desperate for help on the courts’ front lines and a confirmation process that has turned into a congressional version of the Hatfield-McCoy feud.
“My job is not to wage a political fight. It really is to keep the process moving,” said Paris, 37. “We’ve been able to get people hearings in regular order and out of committee in regular order.”
The job of pushing through confirmations after that falls on Leahy (D-Vt.), against Republican filibusters against even noncontroversial nominees to protest President Obama’s recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board in January, which they saw as an unconstitutional sidestep of congressional oversight.
Paris has gone into the community to underscore the need to fill a record number of judicial vacancies. Discussing the process in settings outside Capitol Hill, he said, can “amplify the issue to the outside world.”
Paris advises Judiciary Chairman Leahy on all parts of the confirmation process, from the moment the White House nominates candidates. That means collecting and reviewing the paperwork and financial disclosures for nominees, working with other senators’ staff and helping during confirmation votes on the Senate floor. In the past, he has managed the nominations of U.S. Supreme Court justices Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan and Samuel Alito Jr. plus Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.
Paris also advises Leahy on issues related to civil rights and the administration of the federal courts. Before taking the job, he was a litigation associate at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld in Washington.
Leahy constantly warns his staff not to let the process become personal, Paris said, but instead to focus on how they would want the process to work even if there were a different president or a different party in charge next year.
That means preserving relationships with staff members from across the aisle, Paris continued, since politics really don’t enter into most of the work of vetting candidates and moving them through the process. And in the end, the daily push to fill judicial vacancies is a constitutional responsibility. “That part has not been contentious,” he said. — Todd Ruger