Fourth Circuit Nominees Breeze Through Senate Hearing

WASHINGTON (CN) – Two of President Donald Trump’s nominees to seats on the Fourth Circuit had an easy hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, promising lawmakers they would remain independent and fair if confirmed to the federal bench.

The nominees included Judge Marvin Quattlebaum Jr., who returned to the committee just months after the Senate confirmed him to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. Quattlebaum cleared the Senate in March and Trump nominated him two months later to the Fourth Circuit to replace the retiring Judge William Traxler Jr.

A former partner at the firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, Quattlebaum cleared the Senate comfortably during his first time through the confirmation process. Most of the opposition from Democrats during his first pass through the chamber stemmed from the fact that Republicans blocked the nominations of two African American women then-President Barack Obama originally chose for the seat.

At his nomination hearing on Wednesday, Quattlebaum faced questions about a case that came before him during his short time on the bench in which the NAACP claimed the city of Myrtle Beach, S.C., managed traffic at a rally for black motorcycle enthusiasts differently than a similar rally attended primarily by white bikers.

Quattlebaum denied the NAACP’s request for a preliminary injunction, saying the group had not clearly shown at the early stage of the case that the city’s treatment violated the bikers’ constitutional rights.

When asked about the decision on Wednesday, Quattlebaum explained there is a relatively high standard for granting a preliminary injunction in a case with a limited record.

“As you know senator, the Supreme Court places a very high standard of proof for a preliminary injunction given that it happens early in the case on a small record,” Quattlebaum said, in response to a question from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “I found that on the record before me, the plaintiffs had not met that high standard, but the case of course proceeds on the merits. They’ll have the opportunity to make that case to the court and jury as the case progresses.”

The other Fourth Circuit nominee who appeared before the committee Wednesday was Jay Richardson, who was the lead prosecutor on South Carolina’s case against Dylann Roof, a self-described white supremacist who killed nine black members of a bible study group at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston in 2015. A jury found Roof guilty on all charges against him and a judge imposed the 18 death sentences the jury recommended in January 2017.

Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., praised Richardson’s work on the case when introducing him to the committee on Wednesday, saying the resolution of the case helped heal a fractured community.

“I cannot begin to explain to this committee the loss and the pain that my community endured in the wake of that horrific event,” Scott said Wednesday. “But watching that same community come together to heal with love, forgiveness and grace was one of the most profound moments in our state’s history. An important part of the healing process for the families of the victims was bringing Dylann Roof to justice and in many ways we do have Jay to thank for that.”

Richardson called the experience of prosecuting Roof “remarkable,” describing the families of the victims and the survivors of the shooting as “the very best among us.” He also lauded the way the court applied the law equally to Roof, despite the nature of the crime of which he was accused.

“Even though the defendant in that case was on one end of the virtue spectrum, the rule of law still applied to him equally and the court and the prosecutors and the jury gave him the full protections of the rule of law despite what he had done,” Richardson said.

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Richardson worked as an associate at the firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel before becoming a prosecutor.

The committee also heard from three nominees to federal district courts on Wednesday, two in Florida and one in Puerto Rico.

Roy Altman, who is up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, served as a federal prosecutor in Miami from 2008 to 2014, before becoming a partner at the Miami firm Podhurst Orseck.

Altman told senators his experience working on a violence reduction program while serving as a federal prosecutor has prepared him for a seat on the federal bench by helping him better understand the people who will come before him in court. As part of the program, Altman gave speeches and participated in career days at public schools in the Miami area.

The program also offered job fairs and other services to people re-entering the community from prison, seeking to cut down on recidivism rates.

“A good judge understands that but for the grace of God, there go I,” Altman said. “That whether it’s a small-time plaintiff, a victim in a case or a criminal defendant, everybody deserves a fair shake. People make mistakes, people take the wrong turn, that doesn’t mean everybody’s evil and I think a district court judge needs to recognize that every single day.”

Raul Arias-Marxuach, who is nominated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, told senators he is preparing for a seat on a trial court after a career in civil litigation by reviewing materials provided to him on criminal law.

He also said if confirmed he will take advantage of a six-month “grace period” given new appointees to the Puerto Rico court in which new judges with backgrounds exclusively in civil law can shadow current members of the court and study before taking on randomly assigned cases.

The committee also heard from Judge Rodolfo Ruiz, who is nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Ruiz has served as a Florida state court judge since 2012, first as a county court judge for the Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida and later as a circuit court judge.

A Federalist Society member, Ruiz previously worked as a state prosecutor and as an associate at the Miami firm White & Case.

Ruiz told Sen. Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican who chairs the committee, that his lengthy experience both as a lawyer and a judge will serve him well on the federal court.

He also spoke highly of his experience training judges on implicit bias while on the state court, telling Sen. Mazie Hirono he thinks all judges could benefit from similar lessons.

“I can tell you personally, for me, it has been extremely important, especially in matters of sentencing,” Ruiz said. “And as we always say, it does not mean you have a racial problem, you just need to be aware when you’re sentencing that you take the time to pause and make sure you’re not sentencing based on factors, for instance, that have no bearing on the crime at issue.”

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