The U.S. Senate confirmed a Venezuelan-born Miami lawyer on Thursday to the federal bench in South Florida, the first judicial nominee confirmed after Senate Republicans changed the rules to lessen the power of the minority party during the confirmation process.
Roy Altman, a lawyer at Miami firm Podhurst Orseck, was approved by the Senate to be a U.S. district judge in a 66-33 vote on Thursday, with 14 Democrats joining Republicans to confirm him. Republican Sen. Rand Paul joined 30 Democrats and two independents to vote against Altman’s nomination.
Altman’s private work was centered on aviation law, and he represented victims of high-profile airline crashes like the Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared over the Indian Ocean in 2014. He also worked as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
“Today’s vote is an important step in ensuring Florida’s federal judiciary continues functioning at a high level. I am confident that Roy Altman will serve Florida’s Southern District with honor and integrity,” Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement.
Altman, 36, will be one of the youngest judges ever confirmed for a lifetime post. Washington lawyer Allison Rushing, also 36 but two months younger than Altman, was confirmed as a federal appeals court judge in March. Altman was first nominated for a federal judgeship by President Donald Trump last year, but his nomination expired at the end of 2018.
“Today the U.S. Senate will begin to break through Dem obstruction by voting to confirm Roy Altman as US District Judge for the Southern District of Florida,” Sen. Rick Scott said on Twitter before the vote. “Roy will serve Floridians well in his new role and I look forward to his confirmation!”
Altman’s confirmation is part of a longtime strategy by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to confirm as many nominees with conservative credentials as possible. Altman is a member of the Federalist Society, a conservative organization that seeks to modify the legal system to match an originalist interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. The five Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents were also members of the Federalist Society.
Altman was questioned by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee on a variety of topics, including his affiliation with the Federalist Society, his belief that judges should call “balls and strikes” in lieu of a more activist approach and his views on minority incarceration.
The president has also nominated state-level judges Rodolfo Ruiz and Rodney Smith to federal positions in the Southern District of Florida.
Altman’s confirmation comes a day after McConnell changed Senate rules to cut down the amount of time needed to debate a federal judge’s nomination from 30 hours to 2 hours. The change allows the Senate to confirm more judges and non-Cabinet level posts without eating up time that could be used to pass other bills, making it harder for the minority party to slow the Senate down if they oppose a nominee.
Notably, the rule change could make it tougher for Republican senators to deny judgeships at the last minute, like South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott and Rubio did with appeals court nominee Ryan Bounds last year over concerns about his writings that mocked multiculturalism and cultural sensitivity.
Miami Herald staff writer Jay Weaver contributed to this report.