Ryan Nelson of Idaho Falls was confirmed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by the U.S. Senate on Thursday, on a 51-44 vote.
Nelson, who has been general counsel for Melaleuca since 2009, won support from just one Democrat in the Senate, Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama. All the other votes in his favor came from Senate Republicans, while all the votes against him came from Senate Democrats and independents. Nelson’s nomination earlier cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on an 11-10 party-line vote.
U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, who strongly supported the nomination, said, “Ryan has been widely recognized by his colleagues for his judgement and legal expertise and will serve our nation well on the Ninth Circuit. In his new position, Ryan will respect and be a servant of the law. He understands that a judge is responsible for interpreting and applying the Constitution and laws of the land as they are written, and not to be a maker of laws from the bench.”
Opponents of the nomination decried him as a “conservative ideologue who has advanced a right-wing policy and litigation agenda throughout his career.” That description was part of a three-page letter to the Senate committee from the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which was particularly critical of his arguments against disability rights and environmental protection.
U.S. Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho, who also strongly supported the nomination, said, “Throughout his diverse legal career, Ryan Nelson developed the necessary tools to serve the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals as a sound and principled jurist. A native Idahoan, Ryan will bring a valuable perspective to the court, upholding our way of life, respecting the rule of law, and rejecting judicial activism."
Before joining Melaleuca, the company headed by prominent GOP activist and fundraiser Frank VanderSloot, Nelson worked as an assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources division of the U.S. Department of Justice, a position in which he oversaw 500 appellate cases and personally argued 13 appeals in nine different circuits.
He also served as special counsel for Supreme Court nominations on the GOP staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee and served as a deputy general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget. He also practiced law in Washington, D.C., with Sidley Austin LLP for five years. He is a graduate of Brigham Young University law school and a sixth-generation Idahoan.
In January, President Trump nominated Nelson to be solicitor at the Department of Interior, and that nomination was approved by the Senate Energy Committee, but it was withdrawn in May in light of his nomination to the 9th Circuit.
Taking the Idaho seat on the 9th Circuit court, Nelson replaces Judge N. Randy Smith of Pocatello, who took senior status on Aug. 11, his 69th birthday. Smith, a former Idaho district judge and former Idaho Republican Party chairman, was appointed to the appeals court in 2007.