Reversing the usual script, Democrats praised one of President Trump’s federal appeals court nominees Wednesday while Republicans brought the tough questions for Mark Jeremy Bennett over his defense of gun control laws and free speech rights.
Mr. Bennett, a former Hawaii attorney general now nominated to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had backed a limited interpretation of Second Amendment rights that was overturned by the Supreme Court.
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, also questioned Mr. Bennett over opposition to Citizens United, the Supreme Court case that overturned campaign finance restrictions and helped pave the way for the current system.
“You took positions, taking a very narrow view of what the First Amendment protects,” Mr. Cruz told him during a confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Usually it’s Democrats who fire the tough questions at Mr. Trump’s judicial picks, but Mr. Bennett won praise from them.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, asked Mr. Bennett why he backed legalizing same-sex marriage in Hawaii even before the U.S. Supreme Court had established a nationwide right.
“As a private citizen, I felt it was appropriate for my voice to be heard,” Mr. Bennett said.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat who has found few of Mr. Trump’s appeals court nominees palatable, raved over Mr. Bennett. She praised him for saying judges sometimes should look beyond legal precedent to reach their rulings.
“It is very refreshing to me and not only truthful in my view for Mr. Bennett to say a judge’s experience can come into play. I just want to point that out because we have had many nominees that didn’t express that view,” said Ms. Hirono.
The Alliance for Justice, which has led the fight against Trump judicial nominees, said Mr. Bennett is an exception, and they won’t oppose him.
Dan Goldberg, the group’s legal director, said the White House consulted Hawaii’s Democratic senators in making the pick.
“When you have meaningful, real consultation — real negotiations — you end up with mainstream, non-ideological attorneys,” he said.
The conservative Judicial Crisis Network, which has been the chief cheerleader for Trump’s other judicial picks, had no comment on Mr. Bennett.