WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate Judiciary Committee put their focus Wednesday on four judicial nominees, including a Sixth Circuit contender whose history on gun control cases and pro bono work drew Republican criticism.
Rachel Bloomekatz, Biden's nominee to sit on the Cincinnati-based federal appeals court, would come to the bench from a private law firm in Columbus that she founded in 2019.
The appointee drew praise from Democrats who emphasized her range of legal experience at firms such as Jones Day and Gupta Wessler, as well as her time as an assistant attorney general in Boston.
Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the committee, noted that Bloomekatz's nomination has the support of the Columbus chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.
But Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn scrutinized the nomination, asking about a public comment Bloomekatz made about late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, saying that judges should use their “living experience” to interpret law.
“It's my view that a judge should decide each case with humility, and you have to look at the record in that case, and you have to look at the law and the binding precedent. And that is what has to guide your decision,” Bloomekatz said to Blackburn.
Bloomekatz‘s work as a co-counsel alongside Everytown for Gun Safety in several cases also drew criticism from Blackburn, who argued that the gun control organization opposes “constitutional carry.”
Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana asked whether Bloomekatz supported Everytown's political stances, including a proposed ban on assault weapons.
"I believe, senator, that, as a nominee to the federal bench, it would be inappropriate to express personal opinions," Bloomekatz began to reply, before Kennedy cut her off.
Kennedy interrupted her explanation, saying: "I don't want you not to have personal beliefs and values. If you haven't thought about this, you aren't qualified for the bench."
Digging into the details of cases Bloomekatz handled as a private attorney, Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri asked about a case Bloomekatz took on pro bono during her time at Jones Day.
In 2001, the public defender’s office, which had a conflict in a case, asked Bloomekatz's firm to take the pro bono case of Brandon Moore, a 15-year-old facing rape charges. In 2002, Moore was convicted and sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for the robbery, raping and kidnapping a woman at gunpoint with a group of other people.
Bloomekatz argued to the court on Moore's behalf that, because Moore was a juvenile, his sentence violated the Eighth Amendment, an argument Hawley criticized. But the judicial nominee stood firm on her decision to take the case.
"Senator, they were horrific crimes. And despite the horrific crimes in that case, I do believe that everyone is entitled to a defense and everyone's entitled to a constitutional sentence," Bloomekatz said.
The committee also on Wednesday considered the nomination of Judge Florence Pan, Biden's pick to fill the vacancy on the D.C. Circuit left open by soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson.
Pan has been a district-level federal judge in the nation's capital since 2021.
She previously worked for more than a decade as an associate judge on the Superior Court for the District of Columbia and was an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C. for 10 years, working in the office’s appellate division.
During her tenure as a judge, Pan testified she has presided more than 650 cases. Pan also spent time before that working at the Treasury Department, advising on financial markets and domestic finances.
Lawmakers on the committee lauded Pan's nomination and her experience as the daughter of immigrants to the United States during the Chinese Revolution. Pan’s grandfather was an administrative judge in China.
“Only in America could I be sitting before this committee as a nominee to the D.C. Circuit, just one generation after my parents fled communism in 1949," Pan said.
Wednesday’s panel also heard from two district court nominees.
Ana Reyes, slated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, would be the first LGBTQ judge and first Hispanic woman to serve on the court.
For two decades now, Reyes has been a partner at Williams & Cooley in Washington.
Democrats celebrated the lawyer’s time representing undocumented immigrants in pro bono work.
Judge Elizabeth Hanes is nominated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, where she currently works as a magistrate judge.
For the past two years, Hanes has presided over Eastern Virginia's drug court program, work she also did during her seven-year career as an assistant public defender.
Prior to her time as a judge, Hanes was a civil litigator working on consumer rights cases with Consumer Litigation Associates.
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