Former biofuels attorney, rated ‘not qualified,’ advances

Source: Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 30, 2018

President Trump’s nominee for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowly cleared a procedural vote in the Senate yesterday, with Vice President Mike Pence serving as a tiebreaker.

The final tally was 50-49 to advance the nomination of Jonathan Kobes. He’s now set for a final vote as soon as Tuesday.

The 8th Circuit pick did not win support from any Democrats, who have pointed to his “not qualified” evaluation from the American Bar Association.

The ABA released the evaluation in September, concluding that Kobes lacks the litigation and writing experience to sit on an appeals court.

The legal organization has released unfavorable ratings for six of Trump’s judicial picks; it didn’t issue any for Obama-era nominees. Senate Republicans have increasingly shrugged off the longtime rating system as biased.

Kobes is an aide for South Dakota Republican Sen. Mike Rounds and previously worked as a lawyer for the biofuels industry.

Environmental groups have joined the chorus of opposition to the nominee. The Center for Biological Diversity, which does not often weigh in on nominations, sent a letter to all Democratic senators and some Republicans yesterday outlining concerns about Kobes’ qualifications and his work on biofuels.

“In particular, his stint with Poet, LLC, a multi-billion dollar ethanol company that produces dirty and inefficient fuel from corn products, as well as his years with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD), indicate a very narrow, indeed inaccurate, understanding of biological or climate science and policy,” CBD attorney Bill Snape wrote in the letter.

“These positions do not give confidence that [Kobes] would view environmental or energy cases with the neutral eye we should expect from federal judges,” he added.

Earthjustice has also urged senators to reject the nomination.

All Democrats voted against Kobes in yesterday’s procedural vote. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) initially voted no, in keeping with his vow to vote against Trump’s judicial nominees until the Senate votes on legislation to protect the ongoing special counsel investigation of the 2016 presidential election.

But Flake later withdrew his vote as a courtesy to Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), who was not present for the roll call.

Other nominees

Other Senate action on judicial nominees hit a speed bump this week, with the cancellation of a planned Judiciary Committee vote on 15 picks for district and appellate courts.

The markup had been set for yesterday morning, but Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) nixed it, apparently because of Flake’s judicial blockade. Flake sits on the committee and could prevent a nominee from being reported favorably to the Senate floor.

A committee aide yesterday said he couldn’t provide any information on when the panel vote would be rescheduled, “if at all.” Nominees who don’t clear the Senate this year will have to be renominated by the president once the new congressional session begins.

Meanwhile, Thomas Farr, a controversial nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, may have reached a dead end in his confirmation battle, with Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) announcing yesterday that he will not support Farr.