Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Branch fields questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. (Frame capture from Senate video)

Trump nominee for Atlanta court is unscathed in confirmation hearing

Judge Elizabeth Branch, nominated to sit on the federal appeals court in Atlanta, breezed through her confirmation hearing on Monday before the Senate Judiciary Committee

Branch, a judge on the Georgia Court of Appeals and a native of Fulton County, encountered no stated opposition during the proceeding. With family and friends seated behind her, the judge expressed gratitude to President Donald Trump for “his nomination and the trust he has placed in me.”

Committee chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, praised Branch for ruling in favor of both “big guys and little guys” and sometimes in favor of criminal defendants in the roughly 1,500 cases she has handled on the Georgia appellate court.

Branch vowed to “do equal justice to the rich and the poor” and to faithfully apply the law.

In response to questions from Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Branch acknowledged that she considers herself to be both an “originalist” and a “textualist.”

That is, she thinks the words in the Constitution should be interpreted as they were intended to mean when they were written. She also said she will look to the plain text of the Constitution to help guide her when rendering a decision. Both philosophies are often attributed to conservative jurists.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., seemed mildly annoyed when Branch declined to answer his question about a 1965 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned a Connecticut law that criminalized the use of contraceptive devices. That landmark decision established a right to privacy.

The word “privacy” is not in the Constitution, Durbin told Branch. To rely only on the words of the document, he said, “is a mindless reflection of the reality of court decisions.”

But Branch repeatedly said she would follow the precedents set by the U.S. Supreme Court and the court to which she is nominated – the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

“I have always faithfully applied binding precedent and would continue to do so,” she said of her five years on the state appellate court.

“I think she did well in responding to the GOP senators and that is all that matters in the present Senate,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who closely tracks judicial nominations. “Her answers to difficult questions from Democrats resembled those of most Trump circuit nominees.”

The Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Branch’s nomination in the coming weeks. If confirmed by the Senate, she would replace Judge Frank Hull, who was put on the 11th Circuit by President Bill Clinton in 1997.

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