Topeka A near-unanimous U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance the nomination of Johnson County attorney Holly Teeter for a seat on the federal bench in Kansas, despite a rating of "not qualified" by the American Bar Association.
Teeter, 37, has been nominated to fill a seat in the Topeka courthouse formerly held by Judge Kathryn Vratil. She was given the "not qualified" rating largely because she fell just a few months short of the ABA's standard that a nominee should have 12 years of legal experience to be qualified for the federal bench.
But most Democrats on the panel said they were swayed to support her after seeing letters from two federal judges and a University of Kansas law professor, all lauding her character and qualifications.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she was particularly swayed by a letter from KU law professor Stephen Ware, who described Teeter as "a remarkably bright and accomplished person" who could be trusted to treat people fairly in her courtroom.
"This sunk in with me because I usually take the Bar Association’s judgments. However, in this case I do not," Feinstein said.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., also said he was willing to put aside the ABA's rating in Teeter's case, even though he rarely does so, based on statements from federal judges that Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., had provided him earlier.
"I believe they are unequivocal endorsements of this young lady," Durbin said. "It appears she missed by a matter of months to be qualified with trial experience. Instead of 12 years, it was 11 years and a few months, so it isn't as if she was brand new to the law by any means."
A statement from Moran's office indicated the letters came from retired federal judge Deanell Reece Tacha of Lawrence, who formerly served on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and U.S. District Judge Carlos Murguia, a judge in the Kansas City, Kan., courthouse.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, was the only member of the panel to vote against Teeter; she also voted against another judicial nominee, Brett Joseph Talley, who stirred the most controversy during debate Thursday because of his close ties to the National Rifle Association and the fact that he has never tried a case. He also was rated "not qualified" by the ABA's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
"Their nominations represent to me a breakdown in the process of confirming federal judges and a significant disregard for the quality of judges a president should appoint to lifetime positions," Hirono said. "With the exception of George W. Bush, and now Donald Trump, past presidents have honored the long-standing tradition of asking the ABA to vet and rate judicial nominees before announcing their nominations. And now this committee is disregarding the ABA standing committee's evaluation entirely before scheduling or holding a nomination hearing."
Teeter's nomination now goes to the full Senate for a confirmation vote. No date for that vote has yet been scheduled.