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Senate Advances Controversial Judicial Nominee Steven Menashi

WASHINGTON ― The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to move forward with one of President Donald Trump’s most contentious judicial nominees yet: Steven Menashi, a 40-year-old White House legal aide with a record of opposing and undermining rights for women, LGBTQ people and communities of color.

Every Republican on the committee voted to send Menashi’s nomination to the Senate floor for his confirmation vote. Every Democrat voted no.

Menashi, who is on track to be confirmed to a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, has drawn fierce opposition from civil rights groups, Democratic senators and at least one GOP senator over his wildly offensive past writings, his lack of experience and his refusal to answer senators’ questions about policies he worked on as the president’s legal adviser. 

In past editorials, Menashi compared race data collection in college admissions to Germany under Adolf Hitler; denounced women’s marches against sexual assault; opposed the “radical abortion rights codified in Roe v. Wade;” and claimed that a Dartmouth fraternity wasn’t being racist when it held a “ghetto party” attended by white students donning Afros and carrying toy guns.

He also spread the Islamophobic myth that in 1913 Gen. John Pershing executed Muslim prisoners in the Philippines using bullets dipped in pig fat.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Menashi angered both Republican and Democratic senators by refusing to give any details about his White House legal work. He conceded, however, that he worked on immigration policies with Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, the chief architect of Trump’s ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries and Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

He also served as legal counsel to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she rolled back Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault on campuses.

On Thursday, Democrats on the committee took turns ripping Menashi’s record, temperament and lack of experience. 

“I’m trying to remember any nominee so unqualified as this one,” said longtime Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“The guy is a calamity,” said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), calling his behavior in his confirmation hearing “bizarre, arrogant and evasive.”

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) wondered aloud why the White House couldn’t have found anyone more qualified for a lifetime federal judgeship.

“He has never tried a case. He has never argued an appeal, nor has he made any oral arguments in court. He has never conducted a deposition. He has zero experience handling criminal cases. He could not even name a single time when he observed a criminal trial,” Durbin said. “I believe nominees for a federal judgeship should know their way around a federal court room.”

Republicans defended Menashi, if weakly.

“He’s written some really weird stuff,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “He’s different than I would have chosen, but I think he’s led a consequential life.”

Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.), who previously told HuffPost he was “doubtful” he’d support Menashi, said he’s had a change of heart.

“Some of his views are eclectic and some of them I don’t agree with,” Kennedy said. “I’m going to vote for his nomination because I think his reasons are carefully, carefully articulated.”

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is based in New York, where Menashi doesn’t have support from either of his home state’s senators, which is embarrassing and rarely happens. Alarmingly, he has also ignored senators’ questions about his potential role in White House efforts to hide evidence of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the center of the House impeachment inquiry. Menashi has been Trump’s legal adviser for more than a year.

“Steven Menashi may have participated in the Ukraine cover-up, and now some Republicans want to promote him from covering for Trump in the White House to covering for him on the federal bench,” said Chris Kang of Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group. “With this confirmation vote, we’ll see if Senators’ allegiances lie with justice or with Donald Trump.”

Demand Justice plans to run digital ads targeting a handful of Republican senators ― some of whom are politically vulnerable, some of whom might legitimately have problems with parts of Menashi’s record — pressuring them to vote no on Menashi, ahead of his confirmation vote. They are Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa).

Menashi’s nomination now heads to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote, the timing of which will be decided by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

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