In a 52-45 vote, the U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Los Angeles Jenner & Block partner Kenneth Lee to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit despite the opposition of his home state California senators.
Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris announced their opposition to Lee earlier this year, declining to return so-called blue slips to indicate their signoff on his nomination while it was before the Senate Judiciary Committee, where both senators sit in the minority. They cited Lee’s failure to hand over “controversial writings” from his college days to their home-state screening committee and his initial failure to disclose the writings to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In his writings, Lee was critical of some affirmative action policies, took a supportive position of a professor accused of sexual harassment, and defended President Ronald Reagan’s response to the AIDS crisis. He distanced himself from the writings during testimony before the Senate Judiciary in March. “When you’re 18 or 19 you think you know everything even though you really don’t,” Lee said. “I like to think I’ve matured as a person over the past two and half decades.”
Lee is coming to the bench after stints in both government and private practice. He was a summer associate at some of the nation’s most elite firms—Kirkland & Ellis; Munger, Tolles & Olson; Cravath, Swaine & Moore and Latham & Watkins—prior to clerking for Fifth Circuit Judge Emilio Garza. He worked as an associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz and then as an associate counsel in the George W. Bush White House. Lee joined Jenner as a partner in 2009.
According to Lee’s Senate questionnaire, he made $300,000 in capital contributions to Jenner & Block and had $160,416 in the firm’s “cash balance fund” as of January of this year. According to his financial disclosures, he made $962,480 at Jenner in 2016, $832,480 in 2017, and $860,576 in 2018. As of the Feb. 8 filing, he had made $193,991 in 2019. (The American Lawyer reported that Jenner’s average profits per equity partner were $1.5 million in 2018.) Of note for his upcoming time on the Ninth Circuit bench, Lee disclosed significant stock holdings in Amazon, Microsoft and Bank of America.
Lee’s confirmation means that the Ninth Circuit, a court that has come under frequent criticism from President Donald Trump for ruling against his administration, now will have five Trump appointees among its 26 current active judges. Judge Bridget Bade, who previously served as a magistrate judge in the District of Arizona, was confirmed to the court in March in a 78-21 vote. Trump also appointed Circuit Judges Mark Bennett, Ryan Nelson and Eric Miller to Ninth Circuit seats based in Hawaii, Idaho and Washington, respectively.
Trump’s first nomination to the court—federal prosecutor Ryan Bounds of Oregon—was withdrawn shortly before a scheduled vote by the full Senate last July. The president’s nomination of Munger Los Angeles partner Daniel Collins passed out of the Senate Judiciary alongside Lee’s and remains pending in the full Senate.