WASHINGTON ― The Senate voted on Wednesday to confirm Chad Readler to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, despite strong opposition from Democrats over his leading role in the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions.
The Senate voted 52-47 to make Readler, 46, a lifetime federal judge. Every member of the chamber’s Democratic caucus opposed him with the exception of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who did not vote. Every Republican but one, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, voted for him.
Democrats raised lots of concerns with Readler, who until recently was President Donald Trump’s acting assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s civil division. In this role, Readler defended efforts to weaken voting rights, defended Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military, defended his ban on people from Muslim-majority countries visiting the United States and argued that a worker can be fired because of his or her sexual orientation.
But most of the criticisms by Democrats centered on Readler’s role as a top attorney and policy advisor for the Justice Department when it declined to defend key provisions of the Affordable Care Act in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican state attorneys general. Readler made the legal argument that protections for pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional. The next day, Trump nominated him to be a federal judge.
“Can you imagine the lack of compassion it takes to argue that 130 million Americans, with cancers, respiratory ailments, all the way down to asthma, don’t deserve the guarantee of affordable health care?” asked Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It’s going to be remembered, this vote, for a long time. A long, long time.”
Collins, who is up for re-election in 2020, said Readler’s attack on Obamacare is why she opposed his confirmation.
“Rather than defend the law and its protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions ― such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease ― Mr. Readler’s brief (in the lawsuit) argued that they should be invalidated,” she said in a Tuesday statement announcing her opposition to his appointment.
Readler is one of three circuit court nominees who were slated for Senate confirmation votes this week who have commonalities beyond being Trump’s picks. They are young, they are right-wing ideologues and they are members of the conservative Federalist Society, which has been driving Trump’s judicial selection process by funneling anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ prospective nominees to the White House.
The Senate voted Tuesday to confirm to the 4th Circuit Allison Jones Rushing, 37, who worked for the anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom and has argued that there were “moral and practical” reasons for banning same-sex marriage.
The Senate will vote Thursday to confirm Eric Murphy, 40, to join Readler on the 6th Circuit. Murphy, the state solicitor of Ohio, fought to make it easier to disenfranchise voters. He also filed briefs to the Supreme Court arguing against marriage equality in the landmark 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide and against reproductive rights.
This week’s votes are part of a broader effort by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to dramatically reshape the nation’s federal courts while Trump is in the White House. He has made confirmations of conservative judges his top priority.
With Readler’s confirmation, Trump has now gotten 33 circuit judges, 53 district judges and two Supreme Court justices confirmed. The number of confirmed circuit judges is more than any other president has achieved by this point in his first term, and represents one out of every six seats on those courts.