The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to approve three Texans to serve on the federal bench, including Andrew Oldham, a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit who, upon confirmation, would make it the nation’s most conservative appellate court.
By a party line, 11-10 vote, the committee referred Oldham, who serves as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s general counsel, for confirmation by the full Senate.
President Donald Trump has nominated five people for the Fifth Circuit, the most of any circuit court in the nation. Oldham, who is expected to win Senate confirmation, would join Trump appointees James Ho, a former Texas solicitor general, and Don Willett, a former Texas Supreme Court justice. Trump also has appointed Kurt Engelhardt, a former Louisiana U.S. district judge, and Kyle Duncan, a Louisiana attorney, to the court.
“If you add on the two Louisiana judges for the fifth, it clearly solidifies the Fifth Circuit as the most conservative court in the nation,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond School of Law professor who monitors federal judicial nominations, of Oldham’s nomination.
At his committee hearing a month ago, Oldham faced hard questions from committee Democrats about his hard-line positions on immigration and abortion while serving as Abbott’s lawyer, including a 2016 speech in which he called government agencies like the Internal Revenue Service and the Environmental Protection Agency “fundamentally illegitimate” and “enraging.” Oldham told the senators that the positions he argued as an attorney would have no bearing on his perspective as a jurist.
The committee also approved the nomination of Michael Truncale, a partner in Beaumont’s Orgain Bell & Tucker, to become a U.S. district judge in the Eastern District of Texas, again by an 11-10, party-line vote. Truncale, who will replace U.S. District Judge Ron Clark of Beaumont, also faced tough questions from the committee, including about 2014 remarks in which he stated, while running as a Republican for Congress, that “voter fraud makes a mockery of our elections.” Truncale told the committee the comments were a political matter and that judges should refrain from sharing their political beliefs.
The committee also approved of the nomination of Alan Albright, a partner in the Austin office of Bracewell and a former U.S. magistrate judge, to become a U.S. district Judge in the Western District of Texas. Albright, whose nomination is not considered controversial, would replace U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco. Smith retired in disgrace in 2016 after the Judicial Council for the Fifth Circuit concluded he sexually harassed women inside the Waco courthouse.