New Mexico Democrats hold up Trump judicial appointments

Morgan Lee
Associated Press

Santa Fe, N.M. – New Mexico’s Democratic senators have placed the judicial confirmations for two U.S. District Court vacancies on hold until after the Nov. 3 election. They say the president has politicized the process, so they’ll wait until the voters have spoken.

Using their home-state consultation authority, Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall interrupted the vetting of two possible lifetime appointments in response to a White House news conference – prior to the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sept. 18 – in which Trump invoked the president’s authority over hundreds of recent and future federal judicial appointments as a rallying cry to political supporters. They acknowledged their decision Thursday.

In this Sept. 24, 2020, file photo, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., speaks during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on U.S. policy in a changing Middle East. Democratic U.S. senators from New Mexico have frozen the nomination process for two U.S. District Court vacancies until after the November election, citing the president's politicization of the process.

The New Mexico U.S. District Court has relied on visiting judges to relieve pressure on its robust dockets of immigration and drug trafficking cases. One of three bench vacancies was filled last year by Republican Judge Kea W. Riggs, and Heinrich and Udall had signaled early support for Trump nominees Fred Federici, an assistant U.S. attorney, and Albuquerque-based civil litigation attorney Brenda Saiz.

Trump has urged the Senate to consider without delay his upcoming nomination for a conservative successor to the unquestioned leader of the court’s liberal wing, even though its Republican leaders spurned Democratic President Barack Obama’s election-year Supreme Court appointment in 2016.

“Just weeks before the passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the President insisted on politicizing the judicial appointment process in his remarks at a thinly-veiled campaign event at the White House,” Heinrich and Udall said in a joint statement. “We will be pausing the process given the close proximity to the election, and will continue to work expeditiously to fill these vacancies once the American people have spoken.”

At his Sept. 9 White House event, Trump announced the names of 20 potential future Supreme Court nominees and warned of a growing radical left movement that might use the high court to “remove the words ‘under God’ from the Pledge of Allegiance” and ¨grant new protections to anarchists, rioters, violent criminals and terrorists.”

In an earlier appointment with implication for New Mexico, Trump opened the way in 2017 for former Roswell-based attorney Joel Carson to join the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to take the place of Paul Joseph Kelly.

State Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce praised Federici and Saiz as highly qualified nominees and lamented the senators’ decision. “It looks like for political reasons, they’re just going to keep them frozen up,” Pearce said.

The move leaves a tiny window of time for Senate confirmation before the process resets at the outset of 2021. Oversight would fall partially to Udall’s successor as he retires at year’s end – either Democratic U.S. Rep. Ben Ray Luján or Republican former television meteorologist Mark Ronchetti.