U.S. Senate confirms Georgia judge to powerful federal court

Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant won U.S. Senate confirmation Tuesday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)
Georgia Supreme Court Justice Britt Grant won U.S. Senate confirmation Tuesday to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. (DAVID BARNES / DAVID.BARNES@AJC.COM)

The U.S. Senate voted narrowly on Tuesday to confirm Britt Grant to Atlanta’s 11th U.S. Circuit, greenlighting the Georgia Supreme Court justice for a lifetime position on the powerful federal appeals court that frequently takes on hotly contested issues such as gun rights and the death penalty.

The vote largely fell along party lines, with three Democrats joining 49 Republicans to confirm the former Georgia solicitor general. The final tally was 52-46.

GOP boosters, including Georgia U.S. Sens. David Perdue and Johnny Isakson, called Grant an experienced and well-liked conservative jurist.

“Clearly, Justice Grant is immensely qualified to fill this Court of Appeals vacancy, and there is no doubt in my mind that she will do a fantastic job,” Perdue said Monday on the Senate floor. “In fact, our country needs more judges like Justice Grant.”

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer framed Grant's legal philosophy as "extreme" in the lead-up to Tuesday's vote. The New York Democrat echoed stances taken by some civil rights and abortion rights groups, which cited cases she argued as Georgia's solicitor general on issues such as voting rights, gay marriage and the state's "fetal pain" abortion law.

“From reproductive rights to gun safety, name a partisan legal case from the past five years and there’s a good chance Britt Grant has been involved, taking up a fringe legal argument way out of the American mainstream to weaken well-established rights and overturn a precedent in pursuit of an ideological objective,” Schumer said.

Senate Democrats also sought to tie Grant to her former boss, D.C. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh, as they scrambled for ways to block his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.

But their strategy was not enough to halt the Senate's vote on Grant's nomination, which occurred nearly four months after the Atlanta native was first tapped by the Trump administration.

Grant's nomination was briefly held up due to an unrelated dispute over trade. The intra-GOP fight infuriated Isakson and Perdue, who pressured their colleague U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to drop holds he placed on Grant and all of President Donald Trump's circuit court nominees.

Isakson on Monday called Grant an “outstanding jurist.”

“I don’t remember ever having a judge come before this body, since I have been in Congress, from my home state of Georgia who had more people pulling for her, more people wanting her to win, more people who think she is the right person at the right time for the United States of America,” he said.

Grant rose quickly through Georgia’s political and legal circles. She worked for the George W. Bush administration and then-Congressman Nathan Deal before heading to Stanford University’s law school, where she was president of its Federalist Society, an influential conservative-leaning legal group.

She went on to clerk for Kavanaugh and work in private practice. Grant served as the state's solicitor general beginning in January 2015, until Deal appointed her to the state appellate court bench two years later.

Grant, whom Trump earlier named to his Supreme Court shortlist, is the administration's third appointment to the busy 11th U.S. Circuit Court. The Senate previously confirmed former Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Elizabeth Branch and Birmingham attorney Kevin Newsom to the 12-member panel.

Grant now succeeds Judge Julie Carnes, who took senior status in June. At 40 years of age, Grant will likely be able to hold the position for decades, no small factor as the Trump administration seeks to ensure the appeals court's rightward tilt.

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court hears cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. One rung below the U.S. Supreme Court, the panel hears nationally significant matters involving voting rights, immigration and the dividing line between church and state.

The court ruled last year that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit employers from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation. But other federal appeals courts later issued contrary opinions.

The 11th Circuit has also made it more difficult for plaintiffs to prevail in hostile work environment claims. Following 11th Circuit precedent, lower court judges now dismiss most sexual harassment claims before they go to trial.

Staff writer Bill Rankin contributed to this article.

Britt Grant

Grant, 40, is an Atlanta native and attended Westminster Schools.

She graduated summa cum laude from Wake Forest University.

Before attending law school, Grant worked in a number of domestic policy positions under President George W. Bush at the Office of Cabinet Affairs, on the Domestic Policy Council and with the USA Freedom Corps. She also worked as a legislative correspondent and communications director for Nathan Deal in 2000 and 2001, when he was a member of the U.S. House.

She earned her law degree from Stanford University and was president of the school’s Federalist Society.

After obtaining her law degree, she clerked for Judge Brett Kavanaugh of the District of Columbia Circuit. Kavanaugh is President Donald Trump’s choice to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court that opened up when Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement at the end of June.

In 2015, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens picked Grant to serve as solicitor general — making her the state’s chief appellate lawyer.

In January 2017: Deal, as governor, named Grant to the Georgia Supreme Court

In April, Trump nominated Grant to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Atlanta and considers cases from Georgia, Alabama and Florida.

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