Twenty-eight Senate Democrats voted against confirming a new judge to sit on the federal bench in South Carolina on Thursday — admitting their votes had nothing to with the nominee’s record or his qualifications.
For many, the vote was partly about his race.
Prior to the vote on Thursday, Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., pointed out that as of February 14, 83 percent of President Donald Trump’s confirmed nominees were male and 92 percent of them were white.
He said that the ascendance of Marvin Quattlebaum, a Greenville, S.C., attorney and a white man, was only made possible because Senate Republicans refused between 2013 and 2016 to advance two black nominees for the same South Carolina posting.
“The nomination of Marvin Quattlebaum speaks to the overall lack of diversity in President Trump’s selections for the federal judiciary,” Schumer said. “President Trump replaces not one, but two scuttled Obama nominees who were African-American … It’s long past time that the judiciary starts looking at lot more like the America it represents.”
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., told McClatchy he voted against Quattlebaum for similar reasons.
“My main concern has been that these were vacancies where African-Americans were appointed that would have given greater diversity and were held up,” said Cardin. “It’s more of a protest vote.”
Quattlebaum was ultimately confirmed, 69-28, to be a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.
Democrats’ rationale for opposing him angered South Carolina Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott, who were responsible for helping select Quattlebaum for the judgeship.
“I’ve known Chuck Schumer for years. He is not a racist, but this was an absolutely shameful reason to vote against a very qualified nominee,” Graham said in a statement. “This is political correctness run amok. Voting against a highly qualified nominee because of the color of his skin does nothing to bring our country and nation together.”
Scott, the Senate’s only black Republican and the first African American elected to represent South Carolina in the Senate, scoffed at Democrats’ grandstanding on race and diversity.
“For a very long time the only African American chief (of staff) in the United States Senate was my chief, and then the second African American chief in the United States Senate was a Republican chief from Kansas,” Scott told McClatchy. “So if you look at the conversation around diversity, I think (Democrats are) having the wrong one.
“I recommended Marvin and know that he’s a qualified, competent person,” Scott continued. “For them to conflate disparities in selection with competency … it’s just, in my opinion, ridiculous.”
Scott and Graham were both in the Senate when Obama nominated Alison Renee Lee, a South Carolina judge in the state’s 5th Judicial Circuit. At the time, the customary practice was to defer to a judicial nominee’s home state senators when determining whether to advance the nomination. Scott and Graham ultimately declined to return a “blue slip” to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which thwarted Lee from advancing.
In 2016, Obama tried another contender, then-Associate South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty, whose nomination was not taken up before his eventual appointment as the state Supreme Court Chief Justice.
Scott defended his concerns about Lee and Beatty on Thursday.
“(Lee) had let someone out on bond who murdered somebody,” Scott said. He was alluding to two instances where Lee lowered the bond for two suspected criminals who were later charged with killing South Carolinians.
Both nominees, Scott said, “were of a philosophical disposition that was inconsistent with my own.”
Graham said that with Beatty, he was fielding complaints from South Carolina “prosecutors who thought he was soft on crime.” He also pointed out Beatty’s promotion in the state wasn’t a bad consolation prize.
Late last year, Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, abandoned the blue slip precedent to allow more Trump judicial nominees to be confirmed. For many Democrats, that change in procedure was the primary reason for casting a protest vote against Quattlebaum.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, one of two black Senate Democrats, said her “biggest concern” in voting against Quattlebaum was because of the blue slip issue, but added the “lack of diversity in terms of gender and race” on the federal bench also weighed heavily.
Sen. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said at a recent panel meeting she didn’t blame Quattlebaum for his “home state senators’ decision” not to return blue slips for the two thwarted nominees that came before him.
She was also among those, however, who voted against Quattlebaum on Thursday.