Senate Democrats Continue to Obstruct Damien Schiff, Nominee to Federal Court of Claims

[Below is an opinion piece by Tom Isaacs, an RNLA member and volunteer on RNLA’s Judicial Affairs Committee. His piece highlights how Damien Schiff has been unfairly blocked by Senate Democrats. Mr. Schiff was nominated to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims back in early May and in mid-July his nomination was approved by the Judiciary Committee. Currently, after more than six months of waiting, Mr. Schiff is still awaiting an up or down vote by the full Senate.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schiff’s beleaguered confirmation process has become a glaring example of Democratic obstructionism in the Trump Era. The RNLA will continue to advocate and support the qualified judicial nominees that President Trump continues to nominate. If you are interested in volunteering for the RNLA’s Judicial Affairs Committee,please fill out the signup sheet here.] 

In their never-ending efforts to upstage and obstruct the Trump administration, Senate Democrats continue to stall the confirmation of the President’s judicial nominees, valuing partisan rancor over the proper staffing and functioning of our Courts. The latest victim of this Democratic obstructionism is Mr. Damien Schiff, who was nominated for a seat on the United States Court of Federal Claims in May, but whose nomination is being unjustifiably held up in the Senate.

The United States Court of Federal Claims handles cases involving claims for money damages against the federal government based on federal law, regulations, and contracts with the United States. The Court, while perhaps more obscure than other federal district or appellate courts, nonetheless increasingly handles complex, high-profile cases, and requires a full complement of knowledgeable judges to carry out its designed function.

But Democrats have other priorities. Rather than fully assess Mr. Schiff’s temperament and competence based on the totality of his career, in a desperate attempt to show that Mr. Schiff is unfit for the judiciary, Democrats have seized on a decade-old blog post where a twenty-something Mr. Schiff used colorful language to make a point about the decisions of a sitting Supreme Court Justice. Although Mr. Schiff has since called his own statements “uncharitable” and contextualized his comments, this is insufficient for preening Senate Democrats. Smelling blood, Democrats think they can kill Mr. Schiff’s nomination and thereby score partisan points. But it is a disservice for Senate Democrats to seize on a trivial blog post and use it as a pretext to keep a qualified, rule-of-law attorney off the bench.

Indeed, the attacks against Mr. Schiff do not question his qualifications, legal acumen, or experience – the most important factors when evaluating a judicial nominee. There is a simple reason for this: in over 13 years of practice, Mr. Schiff has irrefutably demonstrated his sharp judgment, knowledge of the law, and commitment to the Constitution. Mr. Schiff believes that cases should be decided based on precedent, the facts, and the law, a common-sense position that, in less partisan times, would easily win him the support of the full Senate.

His experience is also uniquely suited to a position on the Federal Claims Court. As a principal attorney at the Pacific Legal Foundation, he has dedicated his career to litigating environmental and land-use issues in state and federal courts throughout the nation, including at the Supreme Court. Because of his expertise, Mr. Schiff has been quoted in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, as well as appearing on various television and radio programs to discuss federal environmental law.

Moreover, Mr. Schiff understands how the Federal Claims Court operates, having previously clerked for Federal Claims Court Judge Victor J. Wolski. Simply put, he knows the Court and the legal issues that come before it, and his belief that federal judges should leave their personal opinions aside and dispassionately decide cases based on the facts and law is well within the legal mainstream. Mr. Schiff must be confirmed.

Instead, Democrats have delayed and evaded his nomination, aided by liberal interest groups that mischaracterize Mr. Schiff as holding “radical,” “extremist” views. Of course, such hyperbolic onslaughts only make sense if one believes that it is “extreme” to uphold the Constitution and for judges to decide cases based on what the law says, as opposed to the personal values of an individual wearing black robes. The Senate should exercise its constitutional role and hold an up-or-down vote on Mr. Schiff’s nomination. And, if qualifications, experience, and temperament, and not partisanship, are truly what matter, the result of that vote should be a resounding Yes.