Senate Confirms Wildly Problematic Trump Court Pick Steven Menashi

It turns out that you can be confirmed to a lifetime federal judgeship even if you've never tried a case in court, have said awful things about women's rights and engaged in illegal activity on behalf of the Education Department. (Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

WASHINGTON ― The Senate voted Thursday to make Steven Menashi a lifetime federal judge, despite his inflammatory writings about women’s rights and diversity, his refusal to answer senators’ questions and his role in devising an illegal Education Department effort to deny debt relief to students cheated by for-profit colleges.

Every Democrat present voted against confirming Menashi, who is President Donald Trump’s choice for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Every Republican present but one, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), voted to confirm him.

Click here to see how every senator voted. The final tally was 51-41.  

Menashi, 40, is one of Trump’s most controversial court picks to date. Nearly every national civil and women’s rights group opposed him, including the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, the Human Rights Campaign, Muslim Advocates and Planned Parenthood. Democrats questioned his qualifications ― he has never tried a case, made oral arguments in court or conducted a deposition ― as well as his temperament.

In past editorials, Menashi, who is currently Trump’s White House legal aide, compared race data collection in college admissions to Germany under Adolf Hitler; denounced women’s marches against sexual assault; opposed the “radical abortion rights codified in Roe v. Wade”; accused the Human Rights Campaign of having “incessantly exploited the slaying of Matthew Shepard” for political benefit, and claimed that a Dartmouth fraternity wasn’t being racist when it held a “ghetto party” attended by white students donning Afros and carrying toy guns.

He also spread the Islamophobic myth that in 1913, Gen. John Pershing executed Muslim prisoners in the Philippines using bullets dipped in pig fat.

During his confirmation hearing last month, Menashi angered both Republican and Democratic senators by refusing to give details about his White House legal work. He conceded that he worked on immigration policies with Trump’s senior adviser Stephen Miller, the chief architect of Trump’s ban on travelers from several Muslim-majority countries and Trump’s policy of separating migrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

He also served as legal counsel to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos when she rolled back Title IX protections for survivors of sexual assault on campuses.

Menashi ignored senators’ follow-up questions about his potential role in White House efforts to cover up evidence of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that is at the center of the House impeachment inquiry. Menashi has been Trump’s legal adviser for more than a year, which covers the period in which Trump appears to have broken the law by pressuring Zelensky to interfere in the 2020 U.S. elections to help him win.

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that Menashi also helped devise an illegal Education Department effort to use private Social Security data to deny debt relief to thousands of students cheated by for-profit colleges.

Steven Menashi is "one of the most contemptible nominees to come before the Senate in all my time in this body," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).  (Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images)

None of these details swayed Republicans to oppose Menashi. 

“Mr. Menashi won major support from the Judiciary Committee ... on the basis of strong academic and legal qualifications,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said ahead of Thursday’s vote. “I would urge all of our colleagues to confirm this impressive nominee.”

The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is based in New York, where Menashi doesn’t have support from either of the home-state senators — something that rarely happens and is embarrassing. Both of them condemned him ahead of his confirmation vote.

“Mr. Menashi is one of the most contemptible nominees to come before the Senate in all my time in this body,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “His record on race, women’s equality, LGBTQ rights, and the rights of immigrants should be disqualifying.”

“I don’t say this lightly: He’s one of the worst judicial nominees to be put forth by President Trump―and I intend to cast a resounding no vote,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) tweeted.

Menashi will now fill a seat on the 2nd Court of Appeals that was previously held by former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, a champion of civil rights.

“A disgrace,” Lena Zwarensteyn of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement.

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