“I’m very proud of you,” Mr. Hatch told Ms. Rushing. Mr. Sasse called her an “inspired choice.”
Mr. Kennedy, though, tried to draw her out with a string of offbeat questions: “Tell me about your major disappointment in life.” (She said she spent too much time focusing on work and not enough on family, as her husband held their 11-month-old daughter behind her.) “Have you ever failed at something?” (Sports, she said.) “What’s the worst mistake you ever made practicing law?” (She said her associates usually caught her mistakes.)
Finally, sounding frustrated, Mr. Kennedy asked about colleagues Ms. Rushing admired at the law firm of Williams & Connolly, where she is a partner. “Why shouldn’t we appoint them? They’ve been at it awhile. They’ve had a little life experience; they’ve had disappointments, had to pick themselves back up on their feet and keep going,” he said, adding, “I think to be a really good federal judge, you’ve got to have some life experience.”
He said after the hearing that he had not yet decided how he would vote.
Ms. Rushing’s conservative credentials are well established. She is a member of the Federalist Society, the conservative legal group that has been advising the Trump administration on judicial nominees. She has also worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian nonprofit whose clients include Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker whose refusal to make a wedding cake for a gay couple led to a Supreme Court case.
Five district court nominees — Thomas P. Barber, Wendy Williams Berger, Rodney Smith and T. Kent Wetherell II, all state judges in Florida, and Corey Landon Maze, a special deputy attorney general for Alabama — also came before the committee on Wednesday, facing questions about issues including the First Amendment and racial preferences in college admissions.
But Mr. Kennedy seemed to stump one of them, Judge Barber, when he asked whether Federal District Court judges possess the authority to issue “nationwide injunctions” barring the federal government from enforcing a law against anyone, not just against the plaintiffs before them.
“What’s the legal basis for that?” Mr. Kennedy asked.
“Senator, I will confess, I’ll say this much: I don’t know a lot about that,” Judge Barber replied. “I took several courses in law school in federal courts. I never learned about that. It was never taught. So it seems rather new.”
Mr. Grassley has said the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, agreed to Wednesday’s hearing and another to follow it.