WASHINGTON ― Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to confirm one of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominees, Jonathan Kobes, even though Kobes has earned an abysmal “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.
Vice President Mike Pence broke a 50-50 tie vote on Kobes, who will now be a lifetime judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. Every Republican except Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) voted for Kobes. No Democrats voted for him.
The ABA concluded in September that Kobes, a 44-year-old attorney who is general counsel to Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), “has neither the requisite experience nor evidence of his ability to fulfill the scholarly writing required of a United States Circuit Court Judge.”
Members of the ABA standing committee that reviewed Kobes’ nomination said they had difficulty analyzing his professional competence because “he was unable to provide sufficient writing samples of the caliber required” of a circuit judge. Lacking sufficient proof that Kobes is capable of “an especially high degree of legal scholarship and excellent analytical and writing experience,” the panel voted to rate him “not qualified.”
It is incredibly rare for the Senate to confirm a judge with such a terrible rating from the national legal organization. A big part of the problem is that Trump is flying through judicial nominations without much vetting, and he’s not submitting his potential court picks to the ABA before he announces their nominations. Traditionally, presidents have waited for the ABA rating to come out before officially announcing a nominee, in part to save face in the event one of their nominees gets a particularly bad rating.
Former President Barack Obama, for example, didn’t nominate any of his potential court picks whom the ABA rated unqualified.
Kobes drew opposition from more than 200 civil and human rights groups over remarks he made in a 2017 interview on LGBTQ rights and religion, when he claimed that “traditional conservative ideas on the family have gone out.” He also raised concerns over his decision to represent, on a pro bono basis, crisis pregnancy centers (i.e. fake women’s health care centers) that defended a state counseling law requiring abortion providers to tell a woman seeking an abortion that it would increase the likelihood of suicide.
“He voluntarily defended a law requiring providers to give a lecture full of ideological propaganda and fear-mongering to women seeking safe, legal abortions,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said ahead of the vote. “The required lecture in this case actually went so far as to demand providers lie to women and claim abortion increases their risk of suicide. It does not... That is utterly wrong and disqualifying for any judicial nominee.”
Kobes is the sixth Trump judicial nominee to earn a “not qualified” rating from the ABA ― a record high for a president in the first two years of his or her term.
The Senate previously confirmed three of those six nominees: U.S. Circuit Judge Leonard Steven Grasz, who the ABA concluded was “unable to separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge” given his strong anti-LGBTQ and anti-abortion views; U.S. District Judge Charles Goodwin, who the ABA concluded lacked the ability to fulfill the demands of a federal judge given his frequent absence from the courthouse in his former role as a magistrate judge; and U.S. District Judge Holly Teeter, who the ABA concluded lacked trial court experience.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been plowing through judicial confirmations since Trump took office. As of Tuesday, he has overseen the confirmation of two Supreme Court justices, 30 circuit judges and 53 district judges.
Republicans have confirmed so many of Trump’s circuit judges ― many of whom are anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ rights and anti-voting rights, and nearly all of whom are ideologues hand-picked by the conservative Federalist Society ― that roughly 1 in every 6 seats on U.S. circuit courts is now filled by a judge nominated by Trump.
″[The] GOP is just rubber stamping and voting in lock step,” Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on judicial nominations, said in an email. “They really are on a mission.”