Politics

The U.S. Senate has approved Kentucky federal judge Amul Thapar to fill a vacancy on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, making him the second south Asian judge ever to serve on a federal appeals court.

Thapar was President Donald Trump’s second nomination to the federals courts — he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, who was later confirmed.

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

Thapar is also a friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who on Thursday, said the judge would make an “outstanding addition” to the appeals court.

“He has a reputation as a qualified judge with an impressive legal mind,” McConnell said during remarks on the Senate Floor. “He will fairly apply the law to all those who enter his courtroom because in Judge Thapar’s own words, the most important attribute of a judge is to be open minded and not to prejudice a case without reading the briefs, researching the law and hearing from the parties.”

Thapar currently serves as a judge 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.

Senate Democrats criticized his confirmation but were unable to filibuster after Republicans voted 52-48 to end debate on the vote.

On Wednesday evening, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts criticized Thapar’s ruling to strike down a ban on judicial candidates making political contributions.

“It is time to take down the sign that says ‘government for sale’ that hangs above Washington, D.C., and we can start today by rejecting Judge Thapar’s nomination to serve on the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals,” Warren said during a speech on the Senate Floor.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later overturned parts of Thapar’s decision dealing with political contributions, but upheld his ruling that judges should be free to identify with political parties.

Democrats also questioned Thapar’s past membership with the Federalist Society, a conservative institution that helped compile Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist.

Thapar also notably ruled that a coal company shouldn’t have been given a surface mining permit because it didn’t have permission from affected landowners.

President Barack Obama nominated Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Lisabeth Hughes to fill the 6th Circuit vacancy in 2016, but the move was blocked by McConnell.

There are 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts and 100 more in federal district courts.

Trump has nominated Louisville lawyer John Bush to fill another vacancy on the 6th Circuit court. Democrats are criticizing that nomination as well.

This story has been updated.

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