WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s nominee for a federal appeals court is in jeopardy following a conservative revolt from two Republican senators who have said publicly they won’t support him.
Trump nominated federal judge Halil “Sul” Ozerden of Mississippi to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in June. The New Orleans-based court handles cases from Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.
The Senate Judiciary Committee says it removed Ozerden from a planned vote Thursday at the request of the White House. A White House spokesman declined to comment.
Ozerden, a close ally of White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, faces opposition from Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri. They have questioned Ozerden’s dismissal of a lawsuit challenging President Barack Obama’s health care law and other rulings they say show he is not a true conservative.
Senators also questioned whether Ozerden’s rulings as a judge have been overturned more frequently than other nominees.
Ozerden said at his nomination hearing that he dismissed a 2012 challenge to the health care law’s contraceptive mandate on procedural grounds, adding that he followed legal precedent in the case.
“The notion I am somehow hostile to religious liberty is simply not accurate,” Ozerden told senators.
Cruz said Ozerden denied the Catholic Church a hearing and issued a “cursory opinion” that didn’t include a detailed discussion about all of the church’s arguments.
The Judiciary Committee has delayed a vote on Ozerden’s nomination at least four times, indicating the White House is having trouble finding support on the closely divided committee, which includes 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Cruz and Hawley serve on the Judiciary panel and without their support, the nominee would need Democratic votes to go forward.
Withdrawal of Ozerden’s nomination would be an unusual setback for Trump, who has celebrated his administration’s success in getting more than 150 federal judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate, including 45 appeals court judges.
About one-quarter of federal appeals court judges were nominated by Trump, an accomplishment the president and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell boasted about last week.
“Nobody’s done more to change the court system in the history of our country than Donald Trump,” McConnell said at a rally in his home state of Kentucky. “And Mr. President, we’re going to keep on doing it. My motto is ‘Leave no vacancy behind.’”
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