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Senate confirms Menashi to U.S. Court of Appeals in New York

Steven Menashi is an associate counsel to the president.
Steven Menashi is an associate counsel to the president. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
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The Senate on Thursday confirmed Steven Menashi to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York, after a bruising fight in which Democrats — including Menashi’s two home state senators — sharply criticized the Trump judicial nominee’s record.

Menashi was confirmed on a 51-to-41 vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on his confirmation in September, just two days after he was nominated to the powerful federal bench by President Trump.

Menashi, 40, is an associate counsel to the president. He previously was acting general counsel in the Education Department under Secretary Betsy DeVos. He has also worked as an assistant law professor at George Mason University and as a partner at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis.

Ahead of Thursday’s vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) urged members to back Menashi, calling him an “impressive” nominee.

Menashi won “majority support on the Judiciary Committee on the basis of strong academic and legal qualifications,” said McConnell, who has been instrumental in pushing Trump’s judicial appointees through the Senate at a record pace.

McConnell pointed to Menashi’s education at Dartmouth and Stanford, his federal and Supreme Court clerkships and his experience teaching and practicing law.

Democrats, however, were unreservedly critical — of both Menashi’s record and the nominee himself.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) called Menashi “one of the most contemptible nominees to come before the Senate in all my time in this body.”

“He would be a disgrace — a disgrace — to the seat once held by the great Thurgood Marshall,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor, calling Menashi “a textbook example of someone who does not deserve to sit on the federal bench.”

During Menashi’s confirmation hearing, senators of both parties accused him of lacking candor, especially around his work as associate counsel to Trump. He refused to answer most questions related to his work at the White House, specifically when asked whether he played a role in the administration’s policy of separating migrant parents and children at the border and limiting the number of refugees allowed in the country.

Schumer argued Thursday that Menashi had “showed a breathtaking contempt for senators on both sides of the aisle.” Earlier this week, Schumer went even further, declaring that Menashi has “no principles,” “no conscience” and “no morals” for his efforts to deny students debt relief as associate counsel in the Education Department.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) also blasted what she described as Menashi’s “toxic nomination.”

“Menashi boasts a horrific record on race, women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights,” she said Thursday on Twitter. “He led efforts to deny debt relief to students scammed by for-profit colleges and made it harder for sexual assault victims on college campuses to seek justice. … In no way does Menashi deserve this lifetime appointment.”

Senators at Menashi’s confirmation hearing also grilled him on several of his controversial writings. They include a 2010 law journal article defending “ethnonationalism” as a defense for Israel being a “Jewish state” and writings accusing gay rights activists of exploiting the murder of Matthew Shepard and criticizing “Take Back the Night” marches raising awareness about sexual assault on college campuses.

When asked about his writing on Israel, Menashi said he was only trying to point out that many “liberal democracies have a linguistic or ethnic basis,” making Israel not out of the ordinary.

Menashi marks the 162nd Trump judicial nominee confirmed by the Senate. Trump has now appointed a total of 112 district judges, 46 circuit court judges and two Supreme Court justices.