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Democrats hit a number of snags on Biden’s judicial nominees after they surpassed 100 new judges

WASHINGTON — After helping President Joe Biden secure more than 100 judges, the Democrats are experiencing some turbulence in their bid to reshape the courts.

With absences causing delays, a habit of home state senators threatening to hold seats open, and storm clouds gathering over some of Biden’s judicial picks, the next 100 will be tougher.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which advances candidates for full Senate confirmation, has been hampered by two major Democratic absences. California Senator Dianne Feinstein was hospitalized “with a case of shingles,” prompting the committee to postpone a scheduled Thursday meeting to advance judicial nominees; she said she hopes to return to Washington “later this month”. And the absence of Senator John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, who receives help for clinical depression, forced Vice President Kamala Harris this week to cut ties with judges.

Democrats are still aiming to surpass former President Donald Trump’s total of 234 justices, but even barring absences, their well-oiled Senate confirmation machine may be showing signs of wear.

The committee has not scheduled any hearings to consider new judicial candidates in March. Some liberals blame the “blue slip” courtesy — which allows senators to block district court nominees in their home state — and say it could prevent Democrats from achieving their goals.

A Senate Judiciary Democrats spokesperson said that “the committee is outpacing the confirmation rate of both the Trump and Obama administrations.” The spokesman noted that the chairman of the judiciary, Dick Durbin of Illinois, has been urging Republicans to be more cooperative and work with the administration on nominees.

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‘That worries me greatly’

Meanwhile, a few Biden nominees who are already working their way through the confirmation gauntlet are under fire.

Charnelle Bjelkengren, a Spokane County Superior Court judge who was selected by Biden to be a Washington state judge, was stunned when Senator John Kennedy, R-La., asked her what was in Article II and Article V of the Constitution stands.

“That makes it challenging,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va. “Challenging for her.”

“That worries me a lot,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a centrist who has voted for many of Biden’s nominees. “I can’t imagine a judge not knowing the basic articles of the Constitution. So I told my staff to take a good look at that nominee.”

Member of the Judiciary Committee, Lindsey Graham, RS.C., said “she will have a hard time” getting confirmed.

Many Democrats dismissed Kennedy’s “gotcha questions” — some likening Bjelkengren’s response to Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s struggle to name the five freedoms in the First Amendment during her 2020 confirmation hearing. But Republicans see an opening to the broader undermining of Democrats’ legal choices, arguing that they overlook qualifications.

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“God have mercy,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., adding, “Is this the caliber of legal expert President Biden is filling the federal bench for lifetime appointments with? Is the bar for merit and excellence really that low?”

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., stands next to the nominee ahead of an expected committee vote on her candidacy and those of others next week.

In a statement, Murray said Bjelkengren was recommended to her by an impartial panel, that she has “strong support” in Washington and was rated “qualified” by the American Bar Association.

“When we make these kinds of decisions, it’s important to assess these candidates holistically — we have to look at the whole picture,” Murray said. “I am working to continue to build support for Judge Bjelkengren, and I hope my Republican colleagues will support her as well.”

‘Don’t deserve to be a judge’

The second nominee to run is Michael Delaney, a lawyer and former prosecutor nominated for the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals. He was legally representing a New Hampshire school that was sued years ago by the family of a girl who alleged she had been sexually assaulted. The prosecution, 16 at the time, alleged that Delaney filed a threatening motion to reveal her identity if she continued to make statements about the school.

Recently, the prosecution wrote an op-ed in The Boston Globe arguing that Delaney “doesn’t deserve to be a judge” and that supporting him is tantamount to approving “what Delaney and St. Paul’s School did to me and my family.” She added: “Michael Delaney’s nomination should be withdrawn and the White House should keep its promise to support survivors.”

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McConnell has added his voice to the criticism. “In other words, Mr. Delaney was trying to turn the privacy of a teen victim into a hostage to help hold a prep school accountable,” he said, calling on senators to reject the nomination.

Biden is sticking with the nominations, and Democratic leaders have indicated they intend to move forward with both. It’s not clear that Bjelkengren and Delaney have the near-unanimous Democratic support they need to secure confirmation.

Senator Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said Democrats are still going full steam ahead on judges.

“We’ve had hearings with judges at a very fast pace, and I like that,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything else.”

Republicans predict they will be in trouble.

“I think they have some turbulence,” said Kennedy, a member of the Judiciary Committee. “And I think there are some of my Democratic colleagues who want to vote no, and they’re being slapped head and shoulders at this point.”

This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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