Jonathan Kobes testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, on Wednesday, August 22, 2018. Diego M. Radzinschi/ ALM

Vice President Mike Pence broke a Senate tie Tuesday afternoon to confirm Jonathan Kobes, 51-50, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, approving the nomination of a congressional lawyer whom a ratings committee deemed “not qualified.”

Kobes, currently general counsel to Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota, will be the fourth of Trump’s nominees appointed to the Missouri-based appeals court. The lawyer has worked for Rounds in his Sioux Falls office since 2016, previously serving as Rounds’ deputy chief of staff and counsel in Washington, D.C.

Kobes’ confirmation makes him Trump’s second Eighth Circuit appointee who received a “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association’s judicial nominations review committee. Kobes follows Leonard Steven Grasz, a fellow Eighth Circuit pick who was deemed “not qualified” over concerns of his judicial temperament.

“The committee believes that Mr. Kobes has neither the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required of a United States circuit court judge,” Paul Moxley, the panel’s representative, told senators in a September letter.

Kobes, nominated in June, has also faced opposition from progressive legal groups. The liberal Alliance for Justice argued that Kobes’ scant writing record—they also said he had little experience in the courtroom—only served to highlight his political background, including previous membership in the conservative Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association.

The group described Kobes in August as an example of the White House “prioritizing ideology and Republican Party connections over credentials—while it continues to place candidates who are predominantly white men on the bench.”

With Kobes’ confirmation, Trump has now appointed four people—all white men—to the Eighth Circuit: Grasz and Minnesota Supreme Court Judge David Stras both joined the 11-seat court in January. Ralph Erickson, a federal trial court judge in North Dakota, was also elevated to the court as a Trump appointee in October 2017.

In ascending to the court, Kobes will replace Judge Roger Wollman, who is expected to take senior status by the end of the year. Kobes, upon graduating from Harvard Law School, clerked for then-Chief Judge Wollman between 2000-2001.

Before working for Rounds, Kobes was in private practice, working at Sioux-Falls based manufacturer Raven Industries and biofuel company POET, as well as Iowa-based DuPont Pioneer. From 2005 to 2008, Kobes was an associate at Murphy, Goldammer & Prendergast, now Redstone Law Firm. For two years, he was also an assistant U.S. attorney in South Dakota, following a stint at the Central Intelligence Agency.


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