Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced today that he'll be leaving Congress in early January to lead The Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank.
A member of Congress since 1998 – first in the U.S. House of Representatives until his election to the Senate in 2004 – DeMint said in a statement that while he's leaving the Senate, "I'm not leaving the fight." He vowed to continue carrying the mantle for conservative ideas in his new position.
The announcement could be good news for Donna Murphy, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Division. DeMint, who made headlines earlier this year for vowing to reject all White House judicial nominees, has been blocking Murphy's confirmation to the District of Columbia Superior Court.
Murphy declined to comment. A spokesperson for DeMint could not immediately be reached.
President Obama nominated Murphy to fill a Superior Court vacancy in February 2011. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – the committee that handles nominees to D.C.'s local courts – approved her nomination in June 2011. But this June, as reported by Legal Times, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected to a vote on Murphy, saying that DeMint "has some concerns about this nomination."
At the time, it was unclear whether DeMint was blocking Murphy for reasons specific to her nomination or as part of his larger opposition to White House nominees. In March, DeMint said that he planned to reject all White House nominees to protest Obama's controversial winter recess appointments.
It wasn't DeMint's first foray into the affairs of the city's trial court, which, unlike any other local or state court, has its judges appointed by the White House and confirmed by the Senate. In 2010, he delayed a vote on then-nominee Marisa Demeo, who was ultimately confirmed to the Superior Court bench in April of that year. DeMint said at the time that he had concerns about Demeo's "history of leftist activism."
Assuming DeMint doesn't lift his hold on Murphy before he leaves, meaning the Senate couldn't vote on her before the end of the session, she would have to be renominated by the White House. Given the Senate committee's approval of her nomination during the first go-around, her path to the bench would appear to be smooth, absent another hold.
Murphy is one of three Superior Court nominees waiting for Senate confirmation. Rainey Brandt, special counsel to the chief judge of Superior Court, was nominated in March and testified before a Senate committee in July. Stuck in confirmation limbo, she was appointed in October as a Superior Court magistrate judge.
Robert Okun, chief of the special proceedings division of the local U.S. attorney's office, was nominated in September. He testified before a Senate committee on November 20. If Congress doesn't vote on Okun or Brandt's nominations, they would have to be renominated in 2013.