The Senate on Tuesday confirmed the nomination of Omaha attorney Steve Grasz to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, ending a contentious but relatively swift journey to a seat on the federal court.
The 50-48 vote completed a process that began with President Donald Trump's nomination of Grasz in August and the outcome marked the 10th Trump appellate court nomination confirmed by the Senate during the Republican majority's rush to reshape the federal judiciary.
By comparison, three Circuit Court nominations by Democratic President Barack Obama were confirmed during his first year in the White House when Senate Democrats held a majority in 2009.
Grasz, a former chief deputy Nebraska attorney general, had been rated as "not qualified" for the federal bench by the American Bar Association, whose standing committee on the federal judiciary questioned his ability to "separate his role as an advocate from that of a judge."
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That assessment set the stage for a battle sharply divided along partisan lines.
His nomination cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 11-9 party line count, then squeezed past a potential filibuster on a 48-47 vote to invoke cloture Monday and proceeded to Tuesday's showdown vote.
Sen. Ben Sasse guided the nomination through the process as a member of the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Deb Fischer gathered support from her more senior position in the Senate.
Both senators had recommended Grasz to the White House.
Despite the ABA's concerns, which included Grasz's close ties with political leadership in Nebraska, his nomination was lauded by former Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson and Deborah Gilg, who had been Obama's U.S. attorney for Nebraska.
Grasz has been general counsel for the Nebraska Republican Party and treasurer and legal counsel for Pete Ricketts for Governor.
During his confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee, Grasz repeatedly assured senators he would adhere to judicial precedent and not allow his personal views to interfere with his judgment.
Several times, he specifically said he accepts the abortion rights precedent set by Roe v. Wade, which he described as "a clear, existing and binding precedent" established by the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Personal preferences and beliefs of a judge should have no role," he told the committee.
Grasz, 56, is senior counsel at Husch Blackwell in Omaha and prior to that he was Nebraska's chief deputy attorney general for nearly 12 years.
With Grasz's nomination confirmed, two more Trump nominations to seats on federal appeals courts are making their way through the Senate.
Both Sasse and Fischer immediately hailed Tuesday's result.
Grasz "exemplifies the qualities the American people seek in a judge: keen intellect, even judicial temperament and steadfast commitment to the rule of law," Fischer said.
Sasse said "Nebraskans will have a voice on the 8th Circuit committed to an impartial and independent judiciary — someone who understands that judges don't write laws."
Gov. Pete Ricketts added his congratulations. "The U.S. Senate has elevated a great constitutional lawyer to the bench, who will take a thoughtful and fair-minded approach to issues.”
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