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Former Texas Solicitor General James Ho wins confirmation for federal court

James Ho, a well-respected Dallas attorney and former state solicitor general, was confirmed Thursday to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. He joins Don Willett, a longtime Texas Supreme Court justice who was confirmed Wednesday.

Dallas attorney and former Texas Solicitor General James C. Ho answers questions during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to confirm him and Texas Supreme Court Justice Don R. Willett to the 5th Circuit Court, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. on November 15, 2017.

Confirmed with a 53-43 vote Thursday in the U.S. Senate, former Texas Solicitor General James Ho now has a seat on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ho is President Donald Trump's 12th circuit court nominee to be confirmed — a record Republicans tout as highly effective and Democrats criticize as frenzied. Ho's 5th Circuit post has been vacant since 2013; partisan gridlock left it unfilled during President Barack Obama's administration, but a rules change in the U.S. Senate, along with the current Republican majority, has allowed Trump to shepherd his nominees through the upper chamber fairly quickly.

Ho's confirmation comes on the heels of a confirmation vote on Don Willett, a longtime Texas Supreme Court justice who will also serve on the 5th Circuit. Willett was approved 50-47 on Wednesday.

Ho brings rare racial diversity to a federal bench long dominated by white men. He'll be the first Asian-American judge on the 5th Circuit and one of only a handful of Asian-American judges serving on federal appeals courts across the country. A Taiwanese immigrant and naturalized citizen, Ho has written consistently over two decades about birthright citizenship — an issue on which he opposes the president who appointed him.

Ho, a lower-profile name than his Texas colleague on the bench, leads the appellate practice at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher's Dallas office. He has more than a decade of experience working in the public sector, including as counsel to U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, a clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and a stint as Texas' top appellate lawyer. 

During his confirmation hearing last month, Ho faced questions about his contributions to the the infamous 2002 “Bybee memo,” a product of then-President George W. Bush's administration that authorized the use of torture against certain detainees. Ho wrote a memo that is cited in that document, but Ho's writing has not been made public due to attorney-client privilege, he told the committee. 

Like Willett, Ho received the American Bar Association's highest ranking of "well qualified" and is well-regarded in the legal sphere, at the state level and nationally.

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