U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein was greeted with a standing ovation when she returned to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday, as well as a sign of relief from New Hampshire Sens. Maggie Hassan and Jeanne Shaheen. They have put their political reputations on the line for former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, nominated to the federal bench by President Joe Biden at the behest of Hassan and Shaheen.
And it’s going nowhere.
Even Feinstein’s return wasn’t enough to repair the fortunes of Delaney’s troubled nomination, and New Hampshire’s senators are left once again looking irrelevant in their own caucus.
Feinstein (“DiFi” in political circles) has been absent from her Senate duties for months and hasn’t cast a vote since mid-February. Part of the reason is illness, as Feinstein has suffered from shingles, and part of the reason is age. California’s senior senator, who is nine years older than Biden, will turn 90 next month. She has struggled to answer basic questions from reporters in the past.
Feinstein gave up her position as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee to Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), but she kept her seat on the committee. In her absence, it was evenly split 10-10, meaning nominees need at least one GOP vote to get out of committee.
“I can’t consider nominees in these circumstances because a tie vote is a losing vote in committee,” Durbin explained last month.
As a result, more mainstream nominees could get through while controversial picks were blocked.
When Feinstein’s wheelchair rolled into the committee session on Thursday, 90 minutes late and looking frail, the logjam broke — for everyone except Delaney.
The Democratic majority pushed through several problematic judicial nominees, including the infamous Charnelle Bjelkengren, nominee to U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Washington. Bjelkengren is best known for a cringeworthy exchange in the committee earlier this year when she couldn’t answer basic questions about the law posed by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)
“Tell me what Article V of the Constitution does,” Kennedy asked her. After a prolonged pause, Bjelkengren replied, “Article V is not coming to mind at the moment.”
“How about Article II?” Kennedy asked. Again a pause, and again an admission she didn’t know what it was.
“Some of these nominees have no business being anywhere near a federal bench,” Kennedy said afterward. “They have no business being near a park bench.”
That didn’t stop Democrats on the committee from pushing Bjelkengren’s nomination through on a party-line vote. And yet that same committee couldn’t stomach a vote on Delaney.
At least four Democrats on the Judiciary Committee — Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) are publicly undecided on Delaney, and more members could be, too.
Shaheen, 76, declined to respond to requests for comment, and the senior senator’s staff carefully controls media access. However, her office joined Hassan’s Thursday in releasing a statement insisting they still “strongly support” Delaney’s fading nomination.
Delaney’s nomination is based largely on his record loyalty to the New Hampshire Democratic Party as opposed to his record as an attorney. He badly mishandled one of his most high-profile cases, a lawsuit filed by a teenage girl sexually assaulted while a student at St. Paul’s, the exclusive private academy in Concord. Despite the victim’s status as a minor and victim of sexual violence, Delaney asked the court to strip her of her anonymity if she insisted on moving forward with the lawsuit against his wealthy client.
As a result, victims’ rights groups and human rights organizations have spoken out against his nomination.
And some abortion-rights organizations have rejected the Delaney pick over his decision as assistant attorney general to sign off on a 2005 brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court defending the state’s parental notification law.
A new controversy broke last week when Politico reported he spent five years on the board of the free-market New England Legal Foundation. The organization opposed Biden administration policies for vastly expanding the Environmental Protection Agency’s power over the economy. Delaney “served on a committee that vets amicus briefs advancing the group’s pro-business and deregulatory positions,” the news site reported.
An insider from the Concord legal community told NHJournal it was time for Delaney to “do the right thing” for Hassan and Shaheen and withdraw his name. Delaney doesn’t have a Dianne Feinstein problem; he has a Democrat problem, the source said.
“I guess [Hassan and Shaheen] aren’t going to back down, so he needs to do it for them. It’s getting embarrassing.”