WASHINGTON ― The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Eric Murphy to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, meaning a 39-year-old lawyer who repeatedly led efforts to make it harder for people to vote will now be a lifetime federal judge.
Murphy, who has been the solicitor general of Ohio since 2013, was confirmed 52-46. Every Republican voted for him. Every Democrat voted against him. Two senators, Doug Jones (D-Ala.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.), did not vote.
Democrats criticized Murphy’s nomination for several reasons. He argued in 2015 that same-sex marriage would be “disruptive … to our constitutional democracy” in a brief he filed in the Obergefell v. Hodges marriage equality case before the Supreme Court. In 2014, he argued against women’s access to contraception in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby.
But Murphy is perhaps best known for defending Ohio’s notorious voter purge law before the Supreme Court in 2018, arguing that the state should be able to drop people from its voter rolls if they don’t vote for six years and don’t respond to a postcard asking them to confirm their address. The court upheld the law in a contentious 5-4 decision, with Justice Sonia Sotomayor writing in her dissent that the law will disproportionately make it harder for “minority, low-income, disabled, homeless, and veteran voters to cast a ballot.”
That same year, Murphy argued in favor of upholding the so-called perfection requirement, allowing Ohio to discard ballots because of minor clerical errors.
In 2014, Murphy defended the elimination of Ohio’s “Golden Week,” a five-day period in which voters could register and vote at the same time. The state created the period in response to the 2004 election, when many Ohio voters were forced to wait in line for up to 12 hours to vote. The 6th Circuit ruled in favor of getting rid of the period, but Judge Jane Stranch wrote in her dissent that it would impose “a disproportionate burden on African Americans” and “was linked to social and historical conditions of discrimination that diminish the ability of African Americans to participate in the political process.”
In fiery remarks on the Senate floor, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) tore into Murphy’s nomination and said what is “most despicable” about his confirmation vote is that it comes on the 54th anniversary of Bloody Sunday, when civil rights marchers were beaten and tear-gassed as they marched in Selma, Alabama.
“I can’t imagine my Republican colleagues came from Georgia and Kansas … thinking, ‘I’m going to take the oath of office and you know what one of the things is I’m going to do? I’m going to vote to restrict voting rights,’” he said. ”‘I’m going to vote to tell gay people they can’t marry. I’m going to vote to take away worker rights. I’m going to vote for judges that put their thumb on the scale of justice.’ ... I can’t believe that’s why any of you came.”
The Ohio senator said the judicial selection process has become painfully partisan under President Donald Trump. Whether it was George W. Bush or George H.W. Bush, Republican presidents used to nominate “wise, prudent lawyers who believed in public service” to be lifetime judges, he said.
“They didn’t believe in some far-right agenda where they put their thumb on the scale of justice,” said Brown. “They picked picked middle-of-the-road, thoughtful workers that actually believed in civil rights. Shocking.”
Murphy is the third of three U.S. circuit court nominees who Republicans confirmed this week. All three are young, right-wing ideologues who are members of the conservative Federalist Society, which has been driving Trump’s judicial selection process by funneling anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ prospective nominees to the White House.
On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Allison Jones Rushing, 36, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. She worked for the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and has argued that there were “moral and practical” reasons for banning same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the Senate confirmed Chad Readler, 46, to the same court as Murphy. Readler played a leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
This week’s votes are part of a broader effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dramatically reshape federal courts while Trump is in the White House. He has made circuit court confirmations his top priority, as circuit courts are often the last word in federal court cases. The Supreme Court hears only about 100 to 150 appeals of the more than 7,000 cases that come before the nation’s 13 circuit courts each year.
With Murphy’s confirmation, Trump has now gotten 34 circuit judges, 53 district judges and two Supreme Court justices confirmed. Trump has gotten so many circuit judges confirmed ― more than any other president by this point in his first term ― that 1 in 6 seats on the U.S. circuit courts is now filled by a Trump nominee.
CORRECTION: A previous version of the story incorrectly gave Murphy’s age as 40 and Rushing’s as 37.