10th Circuit Nominee Breezes Through Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump’s second nominee to the 10th Circuit breezed through a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, telling senators he would follow precedent and be careful not to let his personal views impact his decision-making if confirmed to the bench.

“Senator, I certainly try to live my life by a moral compass,” 10th Circuit nominee Joel Carson told senators on Tuesday. “As far as moral truths and the role of a judge, I think a judge is required to apply the rule of law as set forth in the Constitution and laws of the United States and not based on their own moral beliefs.”

Carson’s hearing was one of the least contentious a nominee to a federal appeals court has faced during the Trump administration, with senators raising few questions about his legal background or past controversies. Carson told the committee that he does not consider himself an originalist, but that he would not object to being labeled a textualist.

Carson has served as a part-time magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico since 2015, also working as a partner at the Roswell, N.M., firm Carson Ryan during that time. Before moving to Carson Ryan, Carson worked as general counsel to Mack Energy Corporation from 2008 to 2013.

Carson also spent nearly a decade at the Roswell firm of Hinkle Hensley Shanor and Martin, fist as an associate and later as a partner.

At Carson’s hearing before the Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., pressed the lawyer on whether he believes there is racial bias present in the criminal justice system, a question Booker has made a habit of asking nominees since he joined the committee last month.

Carson told Booker he believes racism is a problem in the United States and said the outgoing chief judge of the court on which he serves has set a good model to follow by taking steps to ensure judges on the court are educated on racial issues.

“I absolutely recognize that racism is a problem in this country, and our chief judge was making sure that all the judges in our district were educated on implicit racial bias and that we were on guard for it in our courts,” Carson told Booker.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., also asked Carson about his involvement with the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a group that filed briefs in cases challenging the federal health care law’s contraceptive mandate and the University of Texas’ affirmative action program while Carson was a member.

Carson told Coons he did not work on those cases, though he said he did evaluate the group’s legal positions in other cases.

Four other judicial nominees had a similarly easy time before the committee on Wednesday, as only Coons and Sen. John Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican who chaired the hearing, asked them questions.

Coons asked Colm Connolly, a former federal prosecutor up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Delaware, about his work handling the first federal civil rights prosecution in the state’s history.

In that case, two members of white supremacist groups and a third person opened fire in the playground area of a low-income housing project whose residents were mostly minorities. Connolly and his team earned guilty pleas from all three defendants in the case after striking a cooperation agreement with one.

“It was, I think, a very good moment for the office and sent a good message to the public,” Connolly said at the hearing Wednesday.

Connolly served as a federal prosecutor in Delaware from 1993 to 1999, when he moved to private practice at the firm Morris, Nichols, Arsht and Tunnell. During his time away from prosecutorial work, Connolly served as a technical consultant on the 2001 movie “And Never Let Her Go,” which featured Mark Harmon and  Olympia Dukakis.

Connolly returned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in 2001 and served until 2009, when he jumped back to private practice as a partner at his current firm, Morgan, Lewis and Bockius.

Another former federal prosecutor who appeared before the committee on Wednesday, William Jung, told Coons he believes judges sometimes move too quickly through the process of examining a jury for potential bias in a criminal case. Up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Jung worked as a federal prosecutor in Florida from 1987 to 1993 and is now a partner at the Tampa, Fla., criminal defense firm Jung & Sisco.

The other two nominees before the committee were Maryellen Noreika, who is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, and Ryan Holte, who is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

Both faced limited questions, though Coons did ask them their opinions on potential improvements to patent litigation procedures.

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