Politics

A Kentuckian nominated by President Donald Trump to a federal appeals court will be questioned during a confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on the confirmation of Judge Amul Thapar to the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which considers appeals from federal cases originating in Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Michigan.

Thapar serves in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Kentucky and previously as a U.S. attorney for the Eastern District; both appointments were made by President George W. Bush.

Trump included Thapar on a shortlist of potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees released during the presidential campaign. He was one of four candidates interviewed for the position.

There are 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts and 100 more in federal district courts. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has had a vacancy since 2013, when Judge Boyce Martin retired.

Courtesy Vanderbilt

Amul Thapar

President Barack Obama nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes to the seat in 2016, but the move was blocked by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Carl Tobias, a law professor from the University of Richmond, said McConnell’s rejection of Obama’s nominee to the appeals court “has some of the same flavor” of his block of Merrick Garland, the president’s Supreme Court nominee.

“The Republicans were saying ‘well, it’s a presidential election year, we should let the people decide and just wait in the hopes that a Republican will be elected president,’” Tobias said. “They were prescient, and that’s what happened.”

After winning the election, Trump nominated Neil Gorsuch, a federal judge from Colorado.

Senate Democrats attempted to block Gorsuch’s confirmation, leading McConnell and Senate Republicans to deploy the “nuclear option” — lowering the number of votes required to stop debate on a judicial confirmation from 60 to a simple majority of 50.

It’s unclear whether Senate Democrats will attempt to slow down Thapar’s confirmation. Tobias said he expects “Democrats will ask some hard questions.”

The Civil and Human Rights Coalition sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing concerns about Thapar’s record ruling against “plaintiffs, prisoners, criminal defendants, or campaign finance restrictions.”

Paul Salamanca, a University of Kentucky law professor, published a letter of support for Thapar in the Lexington Herald-Leader, saying the judge would “take the law set forth by the framers of the Constitution or by Congress and apply it with fidelity.”

Thapar’s confirmation hearing will start Wednesday at 10 a.m.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.