Politics & Government

Ted Cruz opposes Trump-nominated Mississippi judge, citing past Obamacare ruling

U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden is flanked by his father, Halil’s, suitcase and naturalization certificate as he speaks during a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens at the Dan M. Russell federal courthouse in Gulfport in 2011. Halil Ozerden had immigrated from Turkey and was naturalized in 1971.
U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden is flanked by his father, Halil’s, suitcase and naturalization certificate as he speaks during a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens at the Dan M. Russell federal courthouse in Gulfport in 2011. Halil Ozerden had immigrated from Turkey and was naturalized in 1971. Sun Herald file

Sen. Ted Cruz plans to vote against the confirmation of Judge Halil Suleyman “Sul” Ozerden, President Donald Trump’s nominee as a federal appellate court judge for the Texas-Louisiana-Mississippi region.

“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,” the Texas Republican said in a statement.

“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.”

Cruz originally gave the statement to Politico and when asked by McClatchy Wednesday to elaborate, he cited the statement and would not answer questions.

Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, said he believes the committee has enough votes in Ozerden’s favor to confirm him. If approved, the full Senate would consider the nomination. Ozerden has been a federal judge for the Southern District of Mississippi since 2007,

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a committee member, could not say how he would vote. “I’m kind of waiting to see how that develops,” he said.

What’s upsetting Cruz and many conservatives is his 2012 decision to dismiss a religious challenge to Obamacare’s contraceptive care mandate.

“I’ve read that opinion, I’ve read that opinion closely. I have to say there are a lot of things about that opinion that concern me,” Cruz said during Ozerden’s judiciary committee hearing in July.

The First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal organization that focuses on religious liberty, wrote earlier this year, “Confirming Ozerden for a lifetime judicial appointment would be a big mistake. His past decisions reveal a questionable judicial philosophy that is at best indifferent to religious liberty—and at times openly hostile to religious liberty.”

Cruz quoted First Liberty during the nomination hearing, saying “He’s not a conservative; he’s never been affiliated with a conservative movement; he’s never volunteered his time to advance conservative causes; he’s never been active in conservative legal circles; and he’s never written any decisions that have advanced conservative principles.”

In response, Ozerden cited his membership in the Harrison County Republican Club before he became a judge, which drew concerns from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, and other Democrats in their Questions for the Record.

The committee has 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats.

Cruz had other concerns.

“Looking at your record, as you know, I’ve got significant concerns because I don’t see any positive substantive evidence of a judicial record that, frankly, we need strong, constitutionalists on the 5th Circuit,” Cruz told the judge in July.

So far, however, Cruz is one of the only members of the Senate Judiciary Committee who has announced how he’ll vote on Ozerden’s nomination.

On Wednesday, Sens. Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, California Democrats and committee members, said they were still unsure how they would vote. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, a committee member, had no comment.

Alexandra Marquez is based in Washington, D.C. and is a student at the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an intern working for the McClatchy D.C. Bureau and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
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