Bench Memos

Law & the Courts

What’s Eating Senator Kennedy?

Senator John Kennedy (R-LA) has emerged as an outspoken and effective critic of President Trump’s judicial nominees. He is the lone Republican Senator to have voted against one of the Trump Administration’s appellate nominees (Greg Katsas, who was nonetheless confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit), and he led the charge against some of the Administration’s district court nominees, three of which have been withdrawn. 

While Senator Kennedy presents himself as a guardian of judicial virtue seeking no more than to ensure all judicial nominees are suitably qualified, some suspect other factors may be at work. At one recent Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Senator seemed irked that the Administration had nominated a well-regarded appellate litigator for a Louisiana seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit instead of tapping one of the Senator’s friends from back home. 

An article in today’s Washington Post ponders reasons Senator Kennedy may have for attacking Trump’s judicial nominees beyond legitimate concerns about qualifications. As the article notes, the pattern of Kennedy’s attacks suggest he may be harboring a personal grudge against the White House counsel’s office and may have home-state electoral ambitions. While it is reasonable to argue that district court nominees lacking meaningful trial court experience are unqualified, any charge that Katsas was unqualified or unsuited for the federal bench is simply absurd. So there’s ample reason not to take all of Senator Kennedy’s concerns at face value.

Jonathan H. Adler — Jonathan H. Adler is the Johan Verhiej Memorial Professor of Law and Director of the Center for Business Law and Regulation at the Case Western Reserve University School of Law.

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