According to a letter obtained by The Daily Wire, a group of prominent conservative leaders have staked out their opposition to Judge Halil Suleyman (“Sul”) Ozerden, the president’s controversial pick to fill a vacant Mississippi-based seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Ozerden, who is presently a U.S. district court judge in Mississippi, has been assailed by many due to concerns stemming from alleged exegetical sloppiness and alleged hostility to religious liberty.
The letter’s signees include First Liberty Institute President and CEO Kelly Shackelford, Conservative Action Project Chairman Alfred Regnery, Morton Blackwell, Dr. James Dobson, Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund Chairman Jenny Beth Martin, ForAmerica President David Bozell, March for Life Action President Tom McClusky, and Wallbuilders Founder David Barton. The letter reads, in relevant part:
Conservatives have grave concerns about the nomination of Judge Halil Ozerden to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.
Specifically, the undersigned raise issue with his commitment to religious liberty, and more broadly, with his commitment to advancing the original meaning of the Constitution. …
Ozerden’s indifference to religious liberty in [the case of Catholic Diocese of Biloxi, Inc. v. Sebelius, No. 1:12-cv-00158-HSO-RHW, slip op. at 7–8, 15 (S.D. Miss. Dec. 20, 2012)] is indicative of a judicial style that is short on substance and which demonstrates a troubling indifference to the textualism we would hope to see in a circuit court judge.
A demonstrated commitment to religious liberty and a deference to the Constitution as it was originally written are the hallmarks of a prudent jurist. Principled conservatives must stand against judges being elevated because of who they know, rather than a proven history of a solid conservative judicial philosophy.
As Sen. Ted Cruz, who has argued nine cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, stated, “for a lifetime appointment on the court of appeals, I believe we should be looking for someone with a strong, demonstrated record as a constitutionalist. I have significant concerns that Judge Ozerden’s judicial record does not indicate that he meets that standard. For that reason, I do not believe he should be on the court of appeals, and I will oppose his nomination.” Senator Cruz is correct. Hopefully, other principled senators who care about our courts will join him.
As the letter indicates, stalwart conservative Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has already come out in public opposition to Ozerden’s nomination. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) has indicated he will support the Ozerden nomination, while many conservative eyes remain fixed on Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) — a fellow former U.S. Supreme Court clerk and member of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee who has already fought multiple battles thus far in 2019 against Trump administration judicial nominees. It is unclear whether Hawley will fight at least one more.
As a recent judicial clerk on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit myself, I wrote a Daily Wire op-ed in June explaining my own personal opposition to the Ozerden nomination:
What Judge Ozerden did in Catholic Diocese of Biloxi represents nothing less than a deliberate indifference — indeed, perhaps an outright hostility — to the interests of religious liberty. And religious liberty, of course, is easily one of the most indispensable issues by which senators ought to vet and assess judicial nominees. …
As a very recent Fifth Circuit law clerk, I can attest that the Court’s en banc votes — in which important cases are brought before all active judges — are oftentimes nail-biting affairs. The Fifth Circuit is being made great again, but it is not quite fully there yet. … And this Mississippi seat promises to be the proverbial Anthony Kennedy seat on the Court — the swing vote in en banc voting who will decide crucially important matters of intense interest to conservatives.
We should have zero question marks from the nominee for this Mississippi seat.
Some of Ozerden’s tough-on-crime defenders have attempted to defend his nomination by pointing to his purported tough sentencing practices as a district court judge but, as I tweeted yesterday, even that proposition is unclear at best.
Time is running short for fellow conservative senators to join Cruz — Ozerden’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation vote will likely be held next week.