Washington – The Senate on Wednesday voted to limit debate on the nomination of Victor Allen Bolden, the corporation counsel for the city of New Haven, to the federal bench, paving the way for a confirmation vote Thursday.
The 51-44 vote to invoke cloture, or limit debate on the nomination to 30 hours, moved Bolden closer to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. But every Senate Republican voted against allowing the nomination to go forward, as did three moderate Senate Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana.
In contrast, votes to invoke cloture Wednesday on the nomination of four other district court candidates received bipartisan support.
When Bolden’s candidacy for the U.S. District Court for Connecticut was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee in September, not a single Republican on the panel voted to move his nomination to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. The GOP senators said Bolden was too much an “activist” to sit on the federal bench.
Because Democrats hold a majority on the panel, Bolden’s nomination was approved by the committee and moved forward.
But in the next Congress, Republicans will hold a majority on the committee and in the full Senate.
That means Bolden needs a confirmation vote in the last weeks of the lame-duck session.
“I’m absolutely thrilled that the nomination has moved forward, and there’s a clear path for approval of this extraordinary, dedicated public servant,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., hadn’t scheduled a vote on the nominations this week, but Republicans filibustered a bill overhauling the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which prescribes procedures for surveillance and collection of foreign intelligence information.
When his candidacy was considered in September, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Charles Grassley of Iowa, called Bolden an “activist” who would not interpret the law without bias.
Bolden, 49, worked as an attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and for the American Civil Liberties Union. He’s also worked as a lawyer in private practice and, since 2009, as corporation counsel for the city of New Haven.
Grassley said he objected to a 24-year-old law review article by Bolden, in which Bolden wrote, “Judges should tip the scale on behalf of demographic groups.”
The Iowa Republican also said he was “troubled” by public comments Bolden made on the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. In that case, the Supreme Court struck down two provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.
“He said the justices got it wrong,” Grassley said. “He has a pattern of advocacy.”
The only other pending judicial nominee who has run afoul of Grassley and other Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans is Stephen Bough, a personal injury lawyer nominated for a federal court in Missouri. He was questioned by Grassley over a number of posts he wrote for a political blog between 2007 and 2009, when he was chairman of a group called Committee for County Progress.
Despite the obstacles and ticking clock, Carl Tobias, a law professor and expert on the federal courts at the University of Virginia, said the believes most of the pending judicial nominees will get a Senate vote before the gavel comes down on the 113th Congress.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said Sen. Jon Tester was from Nebraska. He is from Montana.