Senate Democrats took a major step toward confirming embattled judicial nominee Michael Delaney on Tuesday morning after New Hampshire's two Democratic senators pushed leadership to stand by the nominee, who is under fire for leading a successful push to unmask the identity of an underage sexual assault victim.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) scheduled a markup hearing for Michael Delaney for Thursday, a reversal of fortune for President Joe Biden's nominee for the First Circuit. Just one week ago, Durbin omitted Delaney's name from scheduled markup hearings as the family of a sexual assault victim spoke out against the nomination. The Judiciary chairman acknowledged Monday that important issues about Delaney's character have been raised. New Hampshire senators Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan have led the charge on Delaney's nomination despite unified Republican opposition and outcry from victims' rights advocates.
The controversy surrounding Delaney stems from when he represented New Hampshire's St. Paul's School in a 2016 civil suit against Chessy Prout, then a minor who was sexually assaulted on campus when she was 15 years old. During proceedings, Delaney attempted to strip Prout's anonymity, a move Prout's family called an act of intimidation.
The victim's father, Alex Prout, told the Washington Free Beacon that his family would attend the markup meeting "as a reminder that the voices of survivors need to be heard." Earlier this month, Chessy Prout penned an op-ed in the Boston Globe with the headline "I know Michael Delaney. After what he did, he doesn't deserve to be a judge."
Despite the Prout family's efforts, Democrats remain committed to making Delaney a judge. Shaheen and Hassan on Monday spoke with Durbin about Delaney's nomination and left their meeting feeling confident in his eventual confirmation. Shaheen told reporters that Delaney would be an "excellent judge," echoing words from a January letter she wrote with Hassan in which they lauded his "commitment to justice."
The White House, which recently celebrated its 100th judicial confirmation, is set on beating former president Donald Trump's record of 234 judges in his term. Only one of Biden's judicial nominees has been voted down since the president took office. A spokesman for Senate Judiciary Democrats told NBC News on Monday that "the committee is exceeding the confirmation pace of both the Trump and Obama administrations."
Delaney's confirmation is still uncertain. Senate sources told the Free Beacon that it is not out of the question for a president to pull a nominee prior to a scheduled vote if his party does not have the votes. Two Democratic senators are unable to work, Dianne Feinstein (Calif.) due to a case of shingles and John Fetterman (Pa.) due to his hospitalization with depression, bringing the total number of Democratic votes down to 49.
Barring a quick return by Fetterman or Feinstein, that means at least one Republican would need to vote for Delaney's confirmation to force a tie-breaking vote from Vice President Kamala Harris. A handful of Republicans could also be absent on the day of Delaney's nomination, which would lower the threshold necessary for a majority.
A Senate source told the Free Beacon that the earliest Delaney could see a confirmation vote is March 16.
The victims' rights organization End Rape on Campus on Tuesday called on supporters to "make your voice heard—tell your senators to oppose Michael Delaney's nomination."
"In order to end rape culture, we must advocate for legislative and cultural change at every possible opportunity," the group said in a statement. "If confirmed, Michael Delaney's appointment to this important position will send a chilling message to survivors of sexual assault and advocates."