Senate confirms Michigan’s Larsen for appeals court

Melissa Nann Burke

Washington -- The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to confirm Michigan Supreme Court Justice Joan L. Larsen’s lifetime appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit in a 60-38 vote.

Sens. Debbie Stabenow of Lansing and Gary Peters of Bloomfield Township voted in favor of Larsen, breaking with the majority of their Democratic colleagues.

“She’ll be a strong addition to that court and a benefit to our nation,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said on the Senate floor, calling Larsen a “well-qualified” jurist with a record of independence and fairness.

Larsen, 48, of Scio Township previously taught at the University of Michigan Law School. She has served on the Michigan Supreme Court for two years.

“I am honored by the president’s nomination and today’s confirmation by the Senate,” Larsen said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to serve the people of Michigan on the state’s highest court, and I look forward to serving on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit.”

President Donald Trump nominated her May 8 for the court, which has jurisdiction over district courts in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. She would fill one of two vacancies on the court, replacing Judge David W. McKeague of East Lansing, who is taking senior status.

The office of Michigan Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen Markman said Larsen will continue to serve on the state’s high court until she takes the federal court’s oath of office.

Gov. Rick Snyder thanked Larsen for her service, saying he was proud that Trump chose a Michiganian for the position.

“While we are sad to see her leave the court, I truly appreciate her dedicated work on the bench for the past two years and her devotion to upholding the rule of law,” Snyder said in a statement.

The Senate Judiciary Committee last month approved Larsen’s nomination on a party line vote of 11-9.

Some Democrats had raised concerns about Larsen’s views on executive power and her inclusion on candidate Trump’s list of possible U.S. Supreme Court nominees.

Trump said those on the nominee list would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, though Larsen told the Judiciary Committee she had no idea how she got on Trump’s list and was not contacted about it or her views ahead of time.

The anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List celebrated Larsen’s confirmation as a “pro-life victory.”

“We thank President Trump for keeping his promise to nominate judges who will respect the Constitution and not impose a pro-abortion agenda from the bench,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, said in a statement.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and 27 advocacy groups representing lesbian, gay and transgender interests attacked Larsen’s record on civil rights issues, saying she has a “narrow” view of LGBT rights, highlighting her refusal to review a state court’s decision on the parental rights of same-sex couples.

The Alliance for Justice, a liberal group, on Wednesday called Larsen’s confirmation “troublesome.”

“Larsen is probably one of the most troublesome federal judge President Trump has given us, because she believes presidents have the right to ignore the law if they think there's a risk to national security,” AFJ President Nan Aron said in a statement. “That kind of power would be terrifying in the hands of Donald Trump.”

An Iowa native, Larsen graduated first in her class from the Northwestern University School of Law and clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

She worked in private practice in Washington for two years before serving as deputy assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel from January 2002 to May 2003 under President George W. Bush, advising the White House and attorney general on constitutional and statutory law.

Larsen’s pick was praised by 29 former Justice Department and other government officials in both Republican and Democratic administrations from Richard Nixon to Barack Obama, who wrote to lawmakers about Larsen’s “well-deserved reputation for acumen, integrity, and judgment, as well as deep respect for the rule of law.”

“She’ll be a strong member of the court,” said Carl Tobias, an expert on judicial nominations at the University of Richmond School of Law. “She certainly had support from Michigan faculty that people around the country really respect.”

Nearly three dozen UM deans and colleagues endorsed Larsen’s nomination, calling her legal analysis “top flight.”

Tobias noted that some judges choose to locate their chambers at a law school. The University of Michigan might not be a surprising choice, considering Larsen’s ties there.

Through a spokesman, Larsen declined to comment Wednesday on where she might sit.