WASHINGTON — A presidential nominee for a lifetime appointment on the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will get a hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, despite a lack of endorsement from home-state Sen. John Kennedy.
Kyle Duncan, an LSU law school graduate who's built a national reputation as a conservative legal warrior on social issues, will be considered by the committee on Nov. 29, Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the committee's chairman, announced on Thursday.
That comes despite a lack of a positive endorsement — known as a "blue slip" — from Kennedy, R-Louisiana, a member of the committee. Kennedy told The Advocate on Monday he remained undecided on whether he'd support Duncan's nomination.
The Senate Judiciary Committee has traditionally deferred to nominees' home-state senators when considering nominees for the federal judiciary.
Various chairmen have treated the blue-slip courtesy differently. Some past committee chairs have refused to hold hearings without positive slips from both home-state senators — giving each effective veto power over a president's picks — while others have held hearings despite objections.
In a Senate floor speech Thursday afternoon, Grassley announced his decision to schedule a hearing for Duncan despite Kennedy's lack of endorsement.
Kennedy, according to Grassley, told the chairman he's still undecided but was not against holding a hearing for Duncan.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, told The Advocate on Tuesday he's supporting Duncan and had turned in a positive blue slip on Duncan's nomination.
Grassley said he'll also push ahead with a hearing for David Stras of Minnesota, President Donald Trump's pick for a seat on the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, despite objections from Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota. The committee will consider Stras on the same day as Duncan.
Grassley called Duncan — who previously handled appellate cases for the Louisiana Attorney General's Office and has since built a private practice in Washington, D.C. — "a widely respected appellate lawyer."
Kennedy's office didn't immediately respond to requests for comment late Thursday afternoon.
Duncan, who's now in his mid-40s, hasn't previously served as a judge and has spent most of his career working outside the state of Louisiana. He spent time as a professor of law at the University of Missouri and also worked for the Texas Attorney General.
His work has placed him at the center of a number of high-profile legal fights in the culture wars, from defending state restrictions on abortion to representing a school board's decision to force a transgender student to use a particular bathroom in a battle before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Duncan is perhaps best known for serving as lead counsel for the Hobby Lobby chain of stores who successfully argued that an Affordable Care Act regulation requiring the for-profit company's employee health insurance to cover birth control violated the owners' religious beliefs.
Two conservative groups recently launched campaigns in Louisiana backing Duncan's nomination to the Fifth Circuit. The campaigns didn't name Kennedy but appeared aimed at building pressure for Duncan to be confirmed.
A number of pro-life groups have lined up behind Duncan. Liberal groups and legal advocates for gay and transgender people have expressed alarm about Trump's nomination of Duncan.