Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris opposed Lee, saying he failed to provide dozens of controversial writings on voting rights, race and sexual harassment. Lee's approval continues a recent trend by President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Senate to ignore a longtime Senate custom on judicial nominees. The tradition allows home-state lawmakers to weigh in on a possible nominee, with opposition generally meaning the nomination does not move forward.
Earlier this month, the Senate approved Michael Park and Joseph Bianco of New York to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals over the objection of home-state Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called Lee well-qualified and noted that he worked in the George W. Bush White House and clerked in the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Lee attended Harvard Law School with Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, who called him "a brilliant lawyer" and "a man of high character."
But Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Lee has "a long record of controversial writings and statements on race and diversity, immigration, affirmative action, women's rights and other issues."
She and Harris criticized Lee for failing to disclose dozens of "problematic writings" to a California commission and the Senate Judiciary Committee. "That failure raises significant doubts about Mr. Lee's candor and judgment and it should be concerning to all members of this body," Feinstein said on the Senate floor.
Harris said in a statement that throughout his confirmation process, Lee "repeatedly failed to be forthcoming about his troubling past writings on race, the LGBTQ community, survivors of sexual assault and more."
His actions raised concerns about whether Lee can be a fair and impartial judge, Harris said. "The American people deserve federal judges who will deliver on our country's promise to provide equal justice under law," she said. "I do not believe Kenneth Lee will live up to this important standard."