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Senate Judiciary Committee Considers 4 Nominees, With Only 2 Lawmakers Attending


And here in Washington, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered four more of President Trump's judicial nominees today. But only two senators attended the hearing. That's because the Senate is in recess. NPR national Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson reports.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: The entire hearing was over in less time than an episode of "Law And Order," around 40 minutes in all. The committee's top Republican, Chuck Grassley, didn't show up. Neither did any Democrats. Instead, Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican from Idaho, was in charge.


MIKE CRAPO: Bridget Bade - could Ms. Bade and Mr. Miller please come forward and take your seats?

JOHNSON: Eventually, one other senator arrived, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah. On the agenda were two seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, both coveted jobs that carry lifetime tenure. The nominees were Bridget Bade, a magistrate judge in Arizona, and Eric Miller, a law firm partner in Washington state. In some ways, the hearing followed the usual script. Nominees thanked their spouses and children. Then Miller gave another family member a shout-out.


ERIC MILLER: Both of my children have made very clear to me that, in their view, I would be remiss if I did not mention that our family also includes a cat. The cat was not able to be present today.

JOHNSON: Senator Crapo lobbed a few basic questions to the nominees. Here he is in an exchange with Bridget Bade.


CRAPO: Tell me, if you would, briefly - what do you believe is the proper role of a judge?

BRIDGET BADE: I believe that a judge must understand their role, and that means understanding that you are no longer an advocate. You no longer have a client or a cause or a preferred outcome.

JOHNSON: Eric Miller had a heavier lift. His two home-state senators, Democrats from Washington, oppose his nomination.

KRISTINE LUCIUS: And we can find no example of any judicial nominee to the appellate courts being confirmed over the objection of both home-state senators.

JOHNSON: That's Kristine Lucius with the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. She used to work on that Senate committee for 14 years.

LUCIUS: So if Eric Miller is confirmed over their objection, it will be yet another red line that's crossed by Senator Grassley's leadership on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

JOHNSON: The National Congress of American Indians also wrote to the Senate with concerns about Miller. They say he's focused on undermining the rights of tribes, often taking extreme legal positions. That issue matters, especially in the Ninth Circuit, home to 427 federally recognized tribes. Again, Senator Crapo.


CRAPO: The point is that there's a belief that you don't have the appropriate view of tribal sovereignty.

JOHNSON: Miller defended himself by arguing he did take the side of an Indian tribe in a case he argued at the Justice Department years ago. Since he joined private legal practice, Miller says, he inherited a base of clients that often clash with Indian tribes.


MILLER: My job as an advocate is not to advance my own views but to advance the clients' views and to do the most that I can within the bounds of the law to zealously achieve the client's interests. And that's what I've done.

JOHNSON: Then, Senator Hatch jumped in with more of a statement than a question.


ORRIN HATCH: Well, I want to compliment both of you. I think you're excellent choices. I commend the president for picking you. I support you fully. And we're going to do everything we can to get you through before the end of this year.

JOHNSON: The hearing continued for about 20 more minutes with two other nominees. Karin Immergut is a former member of Ken Starr's independent counsel team. She's vying for a district court judge post in Oregon. Richard Hertling, a former House and Senate staffer, wants a seat on the federal claims court.

The Trump administration has already confirmed a record number of judges. Before the end of the year, Republicans want to advance dozens more. That would bring the Trump total to 36 circuit court judges and 104 lower court judges. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF TARIQ DA HUSTLA'S "SEA WEED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.