Pritzker alumnus confirmed to US Court of Appeals


Daily file photo by Erica Snow

U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) listen during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing for Michael Brennan (School of Law ’89) in February. Brennan was confirmed to the 7th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals last week.

Jonah Dylan, Campus Editor

Lawyer and Northwestern alumnus Michael Brennan (School of Law ’89) was confirmed for a seat on the 7th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals on Thursday after a controversial confirmation process.

Brennan was nominated for the position by President Donald Trump in August, and his nomination was advanced to the full Senate after a narrow vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

Brennan could not immediately be reached for comment, and a Pritzker School of Law spokesperson said the school could not comment on Brennan’s confirmation.

The process had quickly proved contentious, in part due to the “blue slip” tradition of the Judiciary Committee. In a century-old protocol, each senator from a judicial nominee’s home state receives blue slips that allow them to either express or withhold approval for the nomination. Though the “blue slip” tradition is not a formal rule, the precedent has traditionally been that if both blue slips are not returned with approval for the nominee, there would be no hearing.

In Brennan’s case, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) approved Brennan with his blue slip, while U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) withheld her approval. However, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), with the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), decided to give Brennan a hearing.

On May 8, Baldwin asked senators to oppose Brennan’s confirmation.

“Today, respect for the time-honored blue slip comes to an end,” she said on the Senate floor. “I urge my colleagues to recognize that while today’s action disrespects my role as the junior senator from Wisconsin, tomorrow it may well be you.”

Brennan was ultimately confirmed by a vote of 49-46, with all of his votes for confirmation coming from Republican senators.

McConnell has previously voiced his support for moving forward with a confirmation hearing even if a senator objects with his or her blue slip. In an interview with conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, McConnell reiterated this stance.

“My view is that no one senator ought to be able to stop a circuit judge,” he said.

U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) took to Twitter to express her disappointment at the situation. She said the goal of the blue slip process is to let senators look out for their constituents and their concerns.

“We are simply trying to do our due diligence to find and vet nominees,” she tweeted. “Jamming through extreme and unqualified nominees undermines the very nature of the judicial branch’s role in our government.”

Brennan had also faced criticism aside from the concerns over the blue slip process. At a hearing in January, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) asked Brennan if implicit racial bias existed in the judicial system, and Brennan said he wasn’t familiar enough with the data to say.

Then, at the Feb. 15 hearing that eventually ended in Brennan’s approval by the Judiciary Committee, Booker doubled down on his criticism of Brennan.

“Having a federal judge ascended to the bench who has not even a willingness to acknowledge a problem is, to me, not just insulting — but it is dangerous in a country that still has so much work to do to achieve our ideals of liberty and justice for all,” Booker said.

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