Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer rejected President Donald Trump's nominee for a long-vacant South Carolina federal judgeship not because of his qualifications but because of his race.
The decision drew the quick ire of South Carolina's two U.S. senators and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-Spartanburg, a former federal prosecutor.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a Senate floor speech Wednesday he would not support Greenville attorney Marvin Quattlebaum for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court in South Carolina.
Voting for Quattlebaum, he said, would result in having a white man replace two African-American nominees from the state put forth by former President Barack Obama.
Schumer said he would not be a part of the Trump administration's pattern of nominating white men.
"The nomination of Marvin Quattlebaum speaks to the overall lack of diversity in President Trump’s selections for the federal judiciary," Schumer said.
"It's long past time that the judiciary starts looking a lot more like the America it represents," he continued. "Having a diversity of views and experience on the federal bench is necessary for the equal administration of justice."
South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, the Senate's sole black Republican, pushed back on Schumer's rationale and urged other Senate Democrats to instead address diversity issues by starting with their offices.
"Perhaps Senate Democrats should be more worried about the lack of diversity on their own staffs than attacking an extremely well-qualified judicial nominee from the great state of South Carolina," Scott tweeted Thursday morning.
Schumer and other Democrats also argued that Republicans broke with a Judiciary Committee tradition that ultimately left this judicial seat vacant during parts of the Obama administration.
Known as the "blue slip" rule, senators had to submit a blue form voicing their support or disapproval of a judicial nominee from their home state. Schumer said South Carolina's two Republican senators, however, failed to submit a blue slip for the two judges nominated by Obama.
Quattlebaum was ultimately confirmed Thursday on a 69-28 vote.
A partner in the Greenville office of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Quattlebaum was president of the South Carolina Bar in 2011-12. As a student at the University of South Carolina's School of Law, he served on the law review.
U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Schumer's vote against Quattlebaum "political correctness run amok."
"I've known Chuck Schumer for years. He is not a racist, but this was an absolutely shameful reason to vote against a very qualified nominee like Marvin Quattlebaum," Graham said in a statement.
Graham added, "Voting against a highly qualified nominee because of the color of his skin does nothing to bring our country and nation together. Frankly, it is a massive step backward."
Gowdy, who last month announced he is leaving his seat in Congress to return to work as a lawyer, said Schumer was twisting facts. Gowdy said one nominee was rejected, Circuit Judge Alison Lee, because of controversial decisions regarding bond, while the other, Don Beatty, went on to become chief justice of the S.C. Supreme Court.
"Hopefully Senator Schumer can find a way to look at really unusual factors (like qualifications) in the future," Gowdy posted on Twitter.
Federal judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, as stated in the Constitution.
Spartanburg lawyer Donald Coggins, who is white, was confirmed as a U.S. District Court judge in South Carolina in November.
The blue slip debate is part of the overall disagreement between the aisle in the Senate. Last year Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, abandoned the blue slip precedent. That procedural change was one reason many Democrats cited when asked why they voted against Quattlebaum this week.