McDonough's Senate Judiciary hearing a "love fest" on road to confirmation

Staff Photo by Maura Friedman/Chattanooga Times Free PressIn this file photo Travis McDonough announces an agreement had been reached between the city and the owner of the Delta Queen at a news conference in City Hall in Chattanooga.

What's next

› The Senate Judiciary Committee will leave the record open for questions for a week, then will vote on McDonough’s nomination.› The Senate Judiciary Committee sends its recommendation to confirm or reject McDonough to the full Senate.› Senate debates nomination› Debate ends, and Senate votes. Confirmation requires simple majority.

Travis McDonough, chief of staff for Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke and a nominee for a U.S. District Court judgeship in Chattanooga, faced the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

It was, according to one expert, "a love fest."

McDonough and two other nominees answered a few brief questions, but much of the hearing consisted of glowing recommendations from Tennessee's own senators and introductions by the nominees themselves.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced both McDonough and Middle District nominee Waverly D. Crenshaw. He emphasized his personal relationship with McDonough, who he said he knows to be humble.

"Travis is one of those people who you just love to see something like that happen to," Corker said of the nomination.

Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., also voiced his support.

"They're men of good character, they're men of good temperament. I encourage the committee to support their nomination," Alexander said.

The Wednesday hearing was the next step after McDonough's presidential nomination for the judicial seat left vacant by Judge Curtis Collier's semi-retirement last fall. Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who watched the proceedings, said the meeting all but sealed McDonough's appointment.

"I thought it went very well for both Tennessee nominees," Tobias said.

The committee's questions were brief - the hearing took just 45 minutes - and McDonough answered questions that didn't seem to indicate any true concern from the committee.

Did he think federal judges sometimes acted as "de facto legislators?" How would he interpret the law when a precedent hadn't yet been set? What were his thoughts on summary judgment?

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asked McDonough if he had a particularly memorable case from his time as a civil and criminal practice attorney.

"There are a lot," McDonough said. "Being a litigator in Chattanooga, Tennessee, unless you choose a very narrow focus for your practice, means that every day you wake up with a new case."

McDonough said he's missed litigation while working with Berke.

"I think what makes the time I spent as a practicing lawyer most memorable is not one particular case, but the diversity of cases I was able to work on," he said.

Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., expressed the only shred of hesitation seen in McDonough's questioning, and even that was meant as a joke.

"Mr. McDonough, I can't vote for you," Franken said. "I didn't get to ask you a question."

The next step is for the Judiciary Committee to vote on McDonough's nomination. Members will send their decision to the full Senate, which will debate the nomination. A three-fifths majority is needed to end debate, and McDonough's nomination must receive a majority vote for confirmation.

Tobias predicts McDonough's name won't reach the full Senate before the July 4 recess. If it doesn't happen in late July, Tobias said McDonough will likely have to wait until the fall. Either way, Wednesday probably was good news for him.

"I think it's all very positive," Tobias said. "It's just a matter of time."

Contact staff writer Claire Wiseman at cwiseman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6347. Follow her on Twitter @clairelwiseman.