During a confirmation hearing that was at times tense and emotional, two California-based nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit faced questioning from home state senators who oppose their nominations.
California’s Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have come out publicly against President Donald Trump’s nomination of Daniel Collins and Kenneth Lee to the Ninth Circuit, declining to return the so-called blue slips that indicate their sign-off.
Collins, a Los Angeles-based partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson, was an associate deputy attorney general during the George W. Bush administration and served a stint as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Central District of California. Feinstein and Harris said in January that concerns about “his temperament and rigidity were raised during his vetting,” relating to litigation positions he’s taken in the past.
Lee, a Los Angeles-based partner at Jenner & Block, was previously an associate counsel in the George W. Bush White House. Feinstein and Harris said in January they opposed his nomination in part because he did not disclose “controversial writings” that “outlined extreme views on a number of important issues like affirmative action and voting rights” to judicial vettors. Earlier this month, the senators redoubled their opposition to Lee after they said that even more objectionable writings had been unearthed that were not previously disclosed. They called on the White House to withdraw his nomination and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham to hold off on holding Tuesday’s hearing.
At the opening of the committee hearing Tuesday, Graham noted that an initial hearing date had been delayed because the White House initially missed a deadline to hand over materials for the nominees by the day, but as far as he was concerned, “the process has been fair.”
“I think there’s been a lot of consultation here,” Graham said. “From my point of view it’s time to move on.”
Feinstein, by contrast, said in her opening remarks that the decision to move ahead with the hearing would “effectively kill the blue slips for the circuit court” nominees, at least as long as Republicans control the Senate. To that, she warned her Republican colleagues: “Around here what goes around comes around.”
Under questioning from Graham and Feinstein, Lee explained that he initially turned over more than 500 pages of writings to the Senate Judiciary, mostly collected from essays and columns he wrote as a college student. Another 70-plus pages that had been scanned and saved to someone else’s private server were later discovered and handed over. Lee said that the newly discovered material covered similar topics as the previously disclosed writings.
“The topics were similar to what I had written before so in my mind I believed I had provided everything,” said Lee, before apologizing for the late additions.
Lee’s writings were 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 said during testimony that “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, whose parents immigrated from South Korea when he was four, repeatedly invoked his late father’s belief that in America everyone stands a fair chance under the law during the testimony, often under questioning from friendly Republican senators. But Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., invoked Lee’s father to try to pin the nominee down when he sidestepped a question about whether Brown v. Board was decided correctly.
“What do you think your father would have said?” to that question, Blumenthal asked.
Lee responded that he and his father had never really discussed Constitutional issues.
Collins, meanwhile, faced questioning from Feinstein about whether provisions of the reauthorization of the Patriot Act that he worked on allowed the Bush administration to oust and replace nine U.S. Attorneys without Senate approval. Collins said that he had no intention of creating a way for the White House to sidestep the Senate when working on the policy and he never envisioned the scenario that ended up playing out.
“That was not something that I had really thought of,” Collins said.