Senate backs Trump’s Philly-based appeals court nominee over home-state objections

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks with the media after a closed-door briefing for the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

Senate Foreign Relations Committee ranking member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks with the media after a closed-door briefing for the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, in Washington. (Alex Brandon/AP Photo)

President Donald Trump’s nominee for a Philadelphia-based appeals court won Senate confirmation Tuesday, despite opposition from the two senators representing his home state of New Jersey.

The Senate voted 54-45 to approve Paul Matey to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, giving the court a majority of Republican appointees.

Matey, a former aide to Republican ex-Gov. Chris Christie, was opposed by New Jersey’s two Democratic senators, who accused Trump and the Senate’s Republican majority of shredding a longtime custom for partisan gain. Home-state senators traditionally are allowed to weigh in on judicial nominees before they move forward.

The vote marked just the second time that a judicial nominee was approved despite opposition from both home-state senators. The first came two weeks ago, when the Senate confirmed Seattle attorney Eric Miller to an appeals court seat despite opposition from the two Democratic senators representing Washington state.

The Senate last week confirmed former Justice Department official Chad Readler and former Ohio Solicitor General Eric Murphy as appeals court judges despite objections from Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. The other home-state senator, Rob Portman, R-Ohio, backed the two nominees.

Until last year, it had been nearly three decades since the Senate confirmed a judge without consent from both home-state senators.

“Republicans claim to be the party of conservatism. Yet there’s nothing conservative about sweeping aside century-old norms for political gain,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.

Fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a Senate speech that Republicans “seem to be intent on dismantling the century-old process for vetting of judicial nominees … taking it apart piece by piece, whatever it takes to push through these nominees.”

Booker, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, said, “The wound that is being created right now goes right to the ability of any senator in this body to truly represent their state.”

He warned Republicans that “the pendulum is going to swing. There’s going to be a Democratic president eventually.”

Booker and Menendez said the White House did not consult with them before nominating Matey, nor did they get an offer of a meeting before his confirmation hearing.

“If it wasn’t for my presence on the Judiciary Committee, where I got five minutes to question him, this person would have sailed through without any consultation from two home-state senators,” Booker said. “I ask my colleagues: How would they feel if this happened to them?”

Menendez said he was concerned about Matey’s record, saying, “The people of New Jersey have no appetite for a judge who served in Gov. Chris Christie’s administration” and was once seen as a Christie protege.

Matey was a top lawyer for Christie during the “Bridgegate” scandal that centered on a plot to create traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge to punish a Democratic mayor who didn’t endorse Christie. Christie wasn’t charged, but several of his aides were convicted.

Calling the 2013 bridge episode “one of the most egregious abuses of political power against everyday New Jersey families in our history,” Menendez said Matey “could not detail the steps he took to ensure ethics rules were followed” to monitor or prevent the scandal.

The partisan battle over judges is likely to continue. California’s two Democratic senators on Monday asked the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee to postpone a hearing on a Los Angeles lawyer nominated as a federal appeals court judge, saying the nominee hadn’t turned over his controversial writings for review.

Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein asked Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., not to move forward with a hearing Wednesday on Kenneth Lee’s nomination to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A spokeswoman for the committee said the hearing will proceed as scheduled.

Matey is senior vice president and general counsel at University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, and previously was Christie’s deputy chief counsel and an assistant U.S. attorney for the District of New Jersey.

The 3rd Circuit hears cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.

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