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Obama-appointed judges take charge in Florida, Georgia elections

November 16, 2018

Anyone wondering why Senate Republicans are so intent on approving President Trump’s judicial picks need look no further than Georgia and Florida, where three Obama-appointed jurists have taken charge of ballot counting.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker ruled Thursday that thousands of ballots that failed to strictly follow the rules can still be tallied in Florida a decision hailed by Democrats as putting the Senate race within their grasp.

In Georgia, two federal judges in separate cases ruled in favor of tallying previously discounted ballots, again winning cheers from Democrats hoping to close the gap in a closely watched race for governor.

“It tells us that federal court judges are politically driven when rendering decisions,” said Wellesley College political science professor Nancy S. Scherer, author of “Scoring Points: Politicians, Activists and the Lower Federal Court Appointment Process.”

She said the same dynamic was at play in the Florida recount in the 2000 presidential race, when the U.S. Supreme Court split along party lines in a ruling that decided the election of Republican George W. Bush over Democrat Al Gore.

“In fact, they do this with all of their cases, not just the decisions on election outcomes,” Ms. Scherer said.

That’s why the Senate GOP leadership made it a priority to remake the federal judiciary with a conservative bent during Mr. Trump’s first two years.

They confirmed two Supreme Court justices, 29 circuit court and 53 district judges. By comparison, President Barack Obama’s first two years netted two Supreme Court picks but only 11 circuit court and 30 district court judges.

Republicans have teed up 35 more judges for confirmation votes by the end of the year.

Sen. Tom Cotton, Arkansas Republican, said they’ll stay in session through Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve to get them cleared if Democrats slow the process.

“We intend to keep confirming as many [judges] as we possibly can for as long as we are in a position to do that,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

Judge Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of Florida, has a record of rulings favored by Democrats.

He ruled in February against the state and ordered Gov. Rick Scott to restore felons’ voting rights after their release from prison.

In September, he ruled against the state again to require Spanish-language ballots, which was seen as a boon for Democrats amid an influx of likely Democratic voters from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.

That doesn’t make Judge Walker a sure bet for Democrats: In another ruling Thursday, he rejected a bid by Sen. Bill Nelson and other Democrats to extend the recount deadline for counties.

“We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this,” Judge Walker said in court, where he has juggled nine lawsuits over the recount.

Earlier, however, he extended the deadline until 5 p.m. Saturday for voters to show a valid identification and fix their ballots not counted because of mismatched signatures.

The ruling sided with Mr. Nelson, who is trying to overcome a roughly 14,000-vote deficit in his re-election bid.

Mr. Scott, the Republican candidate for Senate, watched his lead wither from about 60,000 votes on election night.

The mismatch signature fix could help Florida Democrats’ effort to flood election offices with corrected absentee ballots, USA Today reported.

A Palm Beach County Democrat told the newspaper that the idea is to have voters fix and submit as many absentee ballots as possible with an altered form in hopes of later including them in vote totals if a judge rules such ballots are allowed.

As Mr. Obama likely intended when he elevated Judge Walker to the federal bench in 2012, his rulings consistently tilt toward a liberal viewpoint.

Mr. Obama also knew what he was getting with the two Georgia judges.

U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg, sister of NPR journalist Nina Totenberg, graduated from Harvard Law, as did Mr. Obama.

She ruled this week that as many as 27,000 ballots get a second look after having been rejected because voters lacked registration or identification proof at the polls, giving Democrat Stacey Abrams hope of finding the addition vote she needs for a come-from-behind win or to force a runoff election in the governor’s race.

U.S. District Judge Steve Jones came up through the ranks of Georgia courts and was appointed to the state Superior Court by Democratic Gov. Zell Miller before Mr. Obama tapped him for the federal bench.

Judge Jones sided with Democrats this week to rule that county election officials must count absentee ballots that lack correct birthdate information, expanding the pool of potential votes for Ms. Abrams.

“What are you going to do about it? I mean, these are federal judges,” said Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican. “My concern is that whenever you get an adjustment [on the federal bench], it is always in one direction.”

“I’m very disturbed by what the activists are doing in Florida, what they are doing in Georgia, to try to manipulate the count,” he said. “So I’m hopeful this will be done very, very quickly, and we need to get on.”

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