Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Bipartisanship calls go bust as judicial picks face sharp questioning

One nominee faced GOP scrutiny over her sentencing record, even as Republicans praised the Biden administration for reaching across the aisle on another pick.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Just days after the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic majority returned to full strength, the panel’s Republican contingent implored the White House to continue working across party lines to fill federal court vacancies.

Calls for bipartisanship from the GOP came Wednesday as the upper chamber’s judicial panel questioned two of President Biden’s court appointees, including Irma Carrillo Ramirez, who is backed by the all-Republican Senate delegation of Texas to to join the bench on the Fifth Circuit.

Senator John Cornyn praised the White House for its show of support.

“We were delighted that the president accepted our recommendation,” the Texas Republican said. “He was not obligated to do so.”

Cornyn opined that more of the administration’s judicial nominees should follow a similar formula. “This is an example of how I think the process should work — with collaboration, consultation and by consensus.”

Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, thanked Cornyn and fellow Texas Senator Ted Cruz for their efforts to find bipartisan court nominees. Durbin is a proponent of blue-slipping — the process by which senators sign off on district court appointments in their home states — and held up Ramirez’s nomination as proof of its power.

Critics of the blue slip on the other hand liken it to a filibuster, arguing that the mechanism gives the minority party outsized control over the majority’s judicial agenda.

Durbin said Wednesday that he hoped nominations such as Ramirez’s would quiet those dissenters. “I want to overcome that criticism with results where we can have bipartisanship in the selection of judicial nominees,” the Illinois senator said. “ This is a good example.”

While the early minutes of Wednesday’s hearing were replete with good feelings on both sides of the aisle, things quickly took a partisan turn as Senate Republicans dialed in on Ana de Alba, the Biden administration’s nominee for the Ninth Circuit.

Ana de Alba has served as a U.S. district judge for the Eastern District of California since 2022. (EDCA via Courthouse News)

Lawmakers grilled de Alba, who has served as a district judge in the Eastern District of California since 2022, on her sentencing record, which they sought to frame as lax compared with legal guidelines.

Several committee Republicans pointed to a January ruling in which de Alba ordered a 5 1/2 year prison sentence for a man convicted of distributing child pornography. Utah Senator Mike Lee and others emphasized that the presentencing report from the U.S. parole office had initially recommended a sentence of around nine years, though that number was later decreased. Lee and other Republicans also noted that prosecutors had labeled the offender a continued threat to minors.

De Alba argued that her judgement should be based on more than a single sentencing recommendation. “I am required to look at many factors when I sentence a defendant,” the Ninth Circuit nominee told Lee. In addition to the presentencing report, de Alba was also required to review requests from the defense and victims as part of her judgement, she said.

Committee Republicans also dinged the nominee for what they said was her decision to remove an ankle monitor from a man convicted of aiding his brother who had killed a police officer.

Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn contended that the circumstances surrounding the offender’s conviction should have made him ineligible for such a move. “We are seeing a terrible rise in violent crime in this country … and I just cannot imagine how you could have justified releasing this person from location monitoring.”

De Alba told the lawmaker that she did not remember the exact details of the referenced case but recalled that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had also been using location-tracking technology on the offender, suggesting that her order did away with a redundant provision.

Blackburn ignored that note and blasted de Alba’s ruling again before moving on.

Prior to Wednesday's hearing, the judiciary panel had been steadily advancing the White House’s judicial nominees despite the absence of Senator Dianne Feinstein, one of the committee’s most senior members. Feinstein, 89, returned to Congress last week after several months spent recovering from a case of shingles.

The California lawmaker cast her first in-person votes on the panel last week, giving Democrats a crucial vote in their efforts to push through some of the Biden administration’s more controversial judicial appointments.

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Categories / Courts, Government, Politics

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