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Bipartisanship a mixed bag as Senate advances pair of Biden court picks

Lawmakers held up one nominee as a picture of cross-aisle cooperation, while the other squeaked through committee on a highly partisan vote.

WASHINGTON (CN) — In its second partisan dust-up this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to advance two of the White House’s federal court nominees, one of whom only made it through the panel by the grace of Democrats’ slim majority.

The upper chamber’s legal panel has in recent weeks started tackling some of the Biden administration’s more controversial judicial appointments — much to the dismay of committee Republicans, who have urged their Democratic colleagues for more bipartisan consensus. Democrats had until recently been hamstrung by the absence California Senator Dianne Feinstein from the panel, whose return to Washington last month provided a crucial tie-breaking vote.

Feinstein’s ballot came in handy Thursday as the judiciary committee advanced the nomination of Ana de Alba, the White House’s pick to fill a vacancy on the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The panel narrowly approved her appointment on an 11-10 vote, strictly along party lines.

De Alba, who was nominated to the Ninth Circuit in April, has served as a district judge in the Eastern District of California since 2022.

The jurist’s sentencing record proved to be an obstacle to Republican support for her appointment. Leading the charge was South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, the panel’s Republican ranking member, who had previously supported de Alba’s nomination to district court. Graham pointed to two of de Alba's decisions that he said were unnecessarily lenient.

In one case, de Alba instructed authorities to remove an ankle monitor from a man who had helped his brother hide from authorities after killing a police officer in 2018. Facing questions from Republican senators during her May confirmation hearing, de Alba explained that the perpetrator was already subject to a location-tracking device from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, rendering a second ankle monitor redundant.

Republicans also took issue with what they framed as a lax sentence for a man convicted of distributing child pornography. Lawmakers noted that the U.S. parole office recommended nine years in a presentencing report, whereas de Alba sentenced the offender to 5 1/2 years in prison. The jurist has contended that the parole office’s report is just one factor she must consider when sentencing an offender.

De Alba’s appointment now heads to the Senate floor, where the full chamber will vote to confirm her to the Ninth Circuit. Carl Tobias, chair of the University of Richmond School of Law, said Thursday that he believes the upper chamber will confirm de Alba despite her near miss in committee.

Meanwhile Thursday, the judiciary committee resoundingly approved the nomination of Irma Carrillo Ramirez to the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Ramirez’s appointment sailed through the panel on a voice vote, thanks largely to the support of Texas’ all-Republican Senate delegation. Missouri Senator Josh Hawley recorded the only vote against her.

Senator John Cornyn, who has already praised the White House for its cooperation, again held up Ramirez as a beacon of bipartisanship.

“This is the way the nomination process should work, with consultation with the White House,” the Texas Republican said. Cornyn thanked President Biden for allowing him, along with Senator Ted Cruz, to consult the Lone Star State’s federal judicial evaluation committee, which recommended Ramirez for the Fifth Circuit job.

Graham concurred. “I appreciate our colleagues Senators Cornyn and Cruz for working with the White House to get a circuit nominee that we can all live with,” he said.

A painless committee vote such as Ramirez’s has been somewhat rare under the Biden administration, Tobias noted. “She may be the only Biden appellate nominee to receive a voice vote in committee,” he said, “which means that nearly all 21 members found her candidacy so compelling that a roll call vote was unnecessary.”

Tobias projected that the full Senate could confirm Ramirez on a voice vote, save for any Republican objections on the floor.

As of Thursday afternoon, neither Ramirez or de Alba’s nominations had been scheduled for a floor vote.

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Categories / Courts, National, Politics

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