The freeze on federal judicial nominations appears to be thawing for the first time since the presidential election, at least when it comes to district court nominees.
The Senate confirmed two more district court judges Thursday, both unanimously, to add to two previous confirmations earlier this week. Mark Walker was confirmed 94-0 to become a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Florida, and Terrence Berg was confirmed by voice vote for a district judge slot in the Eastern District of Michigan.
Both nominees had waited five months for confirmation votes, in part because of the election. Walker has been a Florida circuit judge in Tallahassee since 2009, while Berg has been an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan since 1989, with the exception of several assignments, including a detail at Department of Justice's professional misconduct review unit.
Those votes come on the heels of Monday's 92-1 vote for Paul Grimm to become a U.S. district judge in the District of Maryland on Monday, and Tuesday's 72-23 vote to confirm Michael Shea for a district judge slot in the District of Connecticut. Shea has been a partner at Day Pitney in Connecticut since 2003.
The bigger question among nomination watchers now is when will the Senate consider nominees to appellate courts, and if it will be during the lame duck session. "I am cautiously optimistic that more nominees will soon be considered on the floor," said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond School of Law professor.
Glenn Sugameli, who follows judicial nominations for Judging the Environment and Defenders of Wildlife, said there is still plenty of time for votes on all remaining district and circuit court nominees. "It is hard to believe that Senator [Mitch] McConnell can continue to ignore pleas for votes by both home-state Republican senators from Oklahoma and both from Maine, as well as from Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.),” Sugameli said in an email.
Also Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved four district court nominees, making them ready for confirmation votes before the full Senate. Those nominees are Katherine Failla for the Southern District of New York; Troy Nunley for the Eastern District of California; Sheri Chappell for the Middle District of Florida; and Pamela Chen for the Eastern District of New York.