The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance President Donald Trump’s court pick to the powerful 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — setting up a contentious vote when he reaches the full chamber.
Steven Menashi, an associate counsel to the president, faced backlash from Democrats and Republicans during his September confirmation hearing for declining to answer questions about his work for the White House or for the Department of Education, where he was a lawyer.
And Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said in October she’d oppose Menashi, saying in a statement it was “inappropriate” for the nominee to refuse to answer senators' questions and that his “past writings, particularly about women, LGBTQ advocates, and diversity, raise questions about whether he has the appropriate judicial temperament.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) acknowledged Thursday that Menashi faces bipartisan opposition and added, “He’s different than I would have chosen.”
“I thought he could have been more forthcoming quite frankly,” Graham said, noting Menashi has “written some really weird stuff.”
He added, though, that Democrats shouldn’t reject Menashi for providing legal advice that they disagree with — a reference to his time serving under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, who also criticized Menashi for refusing to answer questions about his work at the White House, joined fellow Republicans on the committee in approving the nomination. He said that while some of Menashi’s writing were controversial, his opinions were “very, very carefully reached.”
“I think we have to be careful in automatically assuming ... people’s points of view as written, for example, in an academic journal are a window in how they’re going to rule,” Kennedy said.
The Louisiana Republican said he expressed his concerns to the White House counsel and added the administration’s nominees generally are “overcoached.”
Beyond his confirmation hearing, Republicans and Democrats criticized Menashi for his earlier writings in legal journals and newspapers. They include a controversial essay he wrote on ethnonationalism and the state of Israel.
As a student at Dartmouth College, he also criticized “Take Back the Night” marches, which draw awareness to sexual violence against women. He’s also accused the Human Rights Campaign of exploiting “the slaying of Matthew Shepard for both financial and political benefit” and wrote in the New York Sun that trial lawyers take advantage of the public.
Prior to the vote, Senate Judiciary Committee ranking member Dianne Feinstein reiterated her opposition to Menashi and cited a New York Times article published Wednesday evening that cited a plan he wrote at the Department of Education that was used to deny debt relief to students cheated by for-profit colleges. A federal judge later ruled that the effort violated privacy laws and ordered the Education Department to cease using it.
“I think it’s really appalling that this committee only learned about this memo and Mr. Menashi’s legal decision on this issue through a leak in The New York Times,” Feinstein said.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) also criticized Menashi for his "history of expressing strident, outlandish personal views."
“This committee should have grave reservations about advancing a nominee to the 2nd Circuit who works in the White House, who has minimal courtroom experience, who has a record of giving troubling legal advice,” Durbin said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday morning that Menashi's nomination was "an embarrassment to this country."
"His conduct before the Judiciary Committee was insulting, his contempt for the Senate reprehensible, his refusal to be forthcoming about his record is outright disqualifying," Schumer said.