Senate panel advances Trump’s appeals court nominee

Senate Republicans on Thursday advanced President Trump’s first lower court nominee, setting up a floor vote. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-8 along party lines to approve Amul Thapar’s nomination to the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals despite Democrats’ opposition to the Kentucky district judge.

Sens. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif) and Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseSenate panel advances Trump’s appeals court nominee Rosenstein to be grilled today on Trump bombshells Second Senate committee invites Comey to publicly testify MORE (D-R.I.) reiterated concerns outside groups have raised about Thapar’s 2016 decision in Winter v. Wolnitzek, in which he struck down a prohibition on judges making political contributions.

In that decision, Thapar said there is “no difference between ‘saying’ that one supports an organization by using words and ‘saying’ that one supports an organization by donating money.”

Whitehouse called that a false statement.

“There is a reason the bribery statute is things of money or value,” he said. “No one has ever been bribed with words before.”

A coalition of 24 groups, including Demos, Every Voice Center, End Citizens United and Free Speech for People, wrote to the committee this week to urge members to reject Thapar’s nomination. The groups claim Thapar’s record shows he will exacerbate the growing role of big money in American politics.

Committee Chairman Chuck GrassleyChuck GrassleySenate panel advances Trump’s appeals court nominee Congress should reverse Sessions on criminal justice and drug war Republicans consumed by Trump-Comey saga MORE (R-Iowa), however, defended Thapar. Grassley said the judge’s answers to the committee’s questions show he will be an independent, fair-minded judge who applies the law to the facts before him.