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September 25, 2017

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Dean Heller disapproves of federal judge nominee because of contributions to Harry Reid


Steve Marcus

Sens. Dean Heller, left, and Harry Reid attend a Memorial Day ceremony in Boulder City on May 30, 2011.

The Senate Judiciary committee voted down party lines to endorse the nomination of Jennifer Dorsey, President Barack Obama’s pick to fill one of the two remaining seats on the federal bench in Nevada.

But when her nomination comes up for a confirmation vote in the Senate, Dorsey won’t have the full support of Nevada’s delegation, also divided down party lines.

Nevada Sen. Dean Heller announced via statement Thursday that he would not be supporting Dorsey’s nomination because he was concerned about the propriety of large financial contributions Dorsey and her law firm — Kent, Jones & Coulthard — made to Sen. Harry Reid campaign and political action committees as he was considering recommending her to Obama for the position.

“I remain uncomfortable with the relationship between the timing and amount of financial contributions made and this nomination,” Heller said in a statement. “I intend to oppose the nomination on the Senate floor.”

According to filings first reported in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Dorsey made a $2,500 contribution to Reid’s campaign committee in March 2012, shortly after they first discussed her judgeship. Reid returned the check a month later.

But in May, Will Kemp and J. Randall Jones, two of the senior partners of Dorsey’s firm, donated a total of $150,000 to Reid’s political action committee, Senate Majority PAC. Reid passed Dorsey’s name up the chain in June, and Obama officially nominated her in September.

Reid was not up for re-election during the 2012 cycle, but Majority PAC spent millions on advertising and other activities in boosting Reid’s majority in the fiercest battleground Senate races of the election year.

While Heller is only one vote of 100, his vote of no confidence in Dorsey as a nominee is likely to complicate the process of getting Republican senators from other states, who have less interest in seeing Nevada’s federal bench back up to full capacity, to cross Heller and vote for Dorsey’s nomination.

Customarily, at least in this Congress, Republicans dangle the threat of filibuster before any judicial nominees; that requires Democrats, who have 55 members in the Senate, to get at least a few of their Republican colleagues on board with Obama’s nominations to clear the 60-vote, filibuster-proof threshold.

Heller’s disavowal of another recent nominee to the Nevada federal bench, Elissa Cadish, was enough to stymie her candidacy for over a year. She eventually dropped out of the running. Obama has not yet nominated a replacement for that seat on the bench.

Dorsey’s nomination has already progressed further than Cadish’s ever did, however. In Cadish’s case, Heller refused to sign the “blue slip” necessary to get her a vote before the Senate Judiciary Committee. On Thursday, that committee voted 10-8 down party lines to approve Dorsey’s candidacy.

Heller is not on the Judiciary Committee and thus played no role in Thursday’s vote.

In his statement, Heller said he had communicated his concerns to the Judiciary Committee prior to when Dorsey had her first audience at a confirmation hearing in late April.

“I hoped that allowing the Judiciary Committee to proceed would clarify these issues so I could support her with no reservations,” Heller said in his statement Thursday.

Reid has not commented on the allegations of impropriety, though his office has stressed that returning Dorsey’s personal contribution is evidence that he acted responsibly in various reports.

The earliest Dorsey’s nomination could come up for a vote in the Senate is likely this summer, according to Reid’s office.

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