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Cory Gardner embraces President Donald Trump during a campaign rally at the World Arena in Colorado Springs on Feb. 20, 2020. (Mark Reis, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Cory Gardner is a consistent ally of President Donald Trump when it comes to judicial picks, a Colorado Sun analysis shows.

The Colorado Republican has voted to confirm all but four of the 214 nominations to the U.S Supreme Court, U.S. Court of Appeals and U.S. District Court put forth by Trump that have been considered by the U.S. Senate. That represents support for 98% of the president’s selections. 

Trump, when asked Monday during an interview with Fox News about how the prospect of quickly filling Ginsburg’s seat could hurt vulnerable senators up for reelection this year, called Gardner “very loyal.”

The analysis comes as Gardner could soon vote on a nominee to fill the seat of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died last week.

In 2016, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Gardner said the Senate should put off confirming judges when a presidential election was so near. But on Monday he issued a statement saying he would vote to confirm a “qualified” replacement. 

Gardner has voted to confirm two of the judges on Trump’s short list to fill Ginsburg’s seat — Amy Coney Barrett and Barbara Lagoa — when they were nominated for other positions on the federal bench.

MORE: Cory Gardner says he will vote to confirm a “qualified” replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The Sun’s analysis shows that Gardner, who is battling to keep his Senate seat, rarely splits from the president when it comes to judges. In the four cases when he cast a “no” vote for a nominee, the judicial picks still were confirmed.

“It demonstrates a generational commitment to conservative jurisprudence,” Kyle Kohli, who leads the conservative group Compass Colorado, said of Gardner’s voting record of Trump’s judicial appointments.

Gardner ran in 2014 on a platform of supporting judges with a record of limiting their interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Kohli said Gardner’s judicial voting record, backing the confirmation of Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, fulfills that original campaign promise.

In 2018, Gardner said he supported Kavanaugh, who during his confirmation hearing in the Senate was accused of sexually assaulting girls while he was a teenager, because Kavanaugh agreed that being a judge is “not about personal opinion, it’s not about personal biases or policy preferences, it’s about looking at the law and ruling on the law and where the law takes you.” The year before, Gardner called Gorsuch “an ardent defender of the Constitution.”

It’s also certainly not unusual for a senator from the same party as a president to support that president’s judicial nominees. 

Republicans have pointed to Trump’s judicial selections as one of the greatest accomplishments of his presidency in partnership with the GOP-led Senate. If confirmed, the judges may stay in the roles for the rest of their lives. 

The front of the Byron White United States Courthouse, which houses the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. On Oct. 16, 2018. (John Ingold, The Colorado Sun)

But liberal activists say Gardner has served as nothing more than a rubber stamp for the president’s picks, even when there are concerns about judges’ positions on health care, immigration and the environment. Gardner has been attacked by Democrats for supporting Gorsuch and Kavanaugh over their positions in abortion-related cases. 

“Many of these judges had egregious records on all kinds of issues, and we opposed them very strongly, and you see party line votes where the Democrats stand up, and Gardner had no problem voting them through,” said Zack Ford, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Alliance For Justice Action Campaign. “When you look at the worst judges, with the most extreme records, Gardner had no problem signing his name to the confirmation.”

The Alliance For Justice Action Campaign has dedicated a webpage to Gardner’s judicial votes and the issues it has with them.

Representatives for Gardner’s Senate office didn’t respond to inquiries from The Colorado Sun on Monday about the senator’s broader voting record on judicial nominees. His reelection campaign highlighted how Colorado’s Democratic U.S. senator, Michael Bennet, appears to have never voted against a judicial nominee from President Barack Obama.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, at U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette’s offices in Denver. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Gardner, in his statement vowing to confirm a qualified candidate to fill Ginsburg’s seat, said he has supported and will “continue to support judicial nominees who will protect our Constitution, not legislate from the bench and uphold the law.” 

The four federal judges appointed by Trump whom Gardner voted against are:

  • Mark Bennett, Hawaii’s former attorney general who was nominated to serve on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in February 2018. Republicans raised concerns about his positions on gun control and campaign finance. Gardner was among 27 GOP senators who opposed Bennett’s confirmation. The final confirmation vote was 72-27.
  • Robert Colville, who was nominated by Trump in March 2019 to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in western Pennsylvania. Gardner was among 27 Republican senators who opposed his nomination. It’s not clear why Gardner voted against the pick, though Colville had been tapped for a spot on the federal bench by President Barack Obama, a nomination that failed. The final confirmation vote was 66-27.
  • Lewis J. Liman, who was nominated in 2019 to serve as a U.S. District Court judge in New York. It’s not clear why Gardner opposed the confirmation. The final confirmation vote was 64-29.
  • Franklin Valderrama, who was nominated to be a U.S. District Court judge in Illinois. It’s not clear why Gardner opposed the confirmation.The final confirmation vote was 68-26.

Judicial nominations, particularly to the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal appellate courts, can have major implications.

Federal judges have stood in the way of many of the Trump administration’s actions on immigration and the environment. Changes to the U.S. Postal Service made by a Trump ally were recently stopped by the federal court system.

In other cases, federal judges upheld Trump’s ban on travel from mostly Muslim countries and his effort to allow employers citing religious or moral objections to exclude birth control coverage from company insurance plans.

Those consequential rulings are why Gardner’s vote on Ginsburg’s replacement will be so closely watched heading into Election Day.

MORE: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death pours intensity on, could reshape Colorado’s hotly contested Senate race

See the chart below for a list of Trump’s judicial nominations and how Gardner voted on them:

Lucy Haggard was a TRENDS Reporting Fellow from August 2020 to May 2021 with The Colorado Sun. Email: Twitter: @lucy_haggard

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....