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New Ninth Circuit judge confirmed in tight vote

The Senate pushed through two more of President Joe Biden’s judicial nominations ahead of the year’s end, as the administration put forth a new slate of federal court nominees.

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Joe Biden's record-breaking court nomination spree dovetailed Wednesday with an end-of-the-year-push to confirm such appointments as the Senate cleared Oregon state labor board member Jennifer Sung for a seat on the Ninth Circuit.

Confirmed narrowly along party lines in a 50-49 vote, Sung, who has represented labor board clients against their employers for more than a decade, faced tough opposition from Republicans.

Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer lamented the pushback from his colleagues on the other side of the aisle Wednesday before the vote. 

Speaking on what he dubbed “Republican obstruction,” Schumer said that Biden, like every president, “deserves to have his administration filled.”

“For years in the past both sides have worked together but this year we’re seeing a new low from Senate Republicans because of the cynical blockade by a handful of members on the other side,” Schumer said.

Schumer noted that the Senate now faces a backlog of at least 150 nominees “who would have sailed through the chamber in years past,” and that the Senate has had to file cloture, a process to end a debate and taking a vote, on twice as many nominees during Biden’s first year, as compared to nominees put forth in the same time period under former President Donald Trump.

Schumer said this was not for the quality of Biden’s picks.

“All of them are immensely qualified by virtue of their skills, their experiences and their unique perspectives,” the New York senator admonished, emphasizing the historic diversity among Biden’s nominees, many of whom are either women or from nonwhite racial backgrounds.

Outside of the chamber Wednesday, Schumer has threatened to keep the Senate in session through the weekend and into the week of Christmas in an effort to break Republicans resisting Biden’s nominees.

“We’re going to continue working as much as we can for the rest of this year to confirm more judges,” Schumer said Wednesday, noting that the Senate will continue to work with the president next year to confirm even more.

Biden meanwhile added Wednesday to his wave of federal judicial nominees, with nine more names joining the line of those awaiting confirmation votes. The move raised his administration's total federal judicial nominations for the year to 73, just higher than the 72 nominations Trump made in his first year.

Biden continued his commitment to putting forth diverse candidates Wednesday. Among those named was California Superior Court Judge Sunshine Sykes for the Central District of California District Court, who would be the first Native American Article III judge in California and the first Article III judge from the Navajo Nation.

Biden also named Deputy Chief Judge William Pocan of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court as a nominee to the federal bench in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. A county circuit judge since 2006, Pocan would be the first LGBT Article III judge in Wisconsin and the first within the Seventh Circuit if confirmed. 

Fellow nominee and current Dechert attorney Hector Gonzalez, too, would break barriers if confirmed — as the only active Latino judge at the Eastern District of New York. Put forth for the same court, nominee Nina Morrison has been an attorney since 2002 with the Innocence Project, a nonprofit that represents wrongly convicted individuals, not a common professional background for such postings.

Votes for Gabriel Sanchez and Holly Thomas, two other judicial nominations for the Ninth Circuit, are still pending in the Senate.

Also pushed through Wednesday to a spot on the federal bench by a smidge of a wider margin, the Senate voted 62-37 to confirm private attorney Samantha Elliott as a federal judge for the District Court of New Hampshire. New Hampshire’s two Democratic senators, Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, spoke highly of Elliot before the vote Wednesday.

“Samantha Elliott will be a fair-minded, balanced and intellectually curious judge,” Hassan said before the chamber Wednesday. Shaheen meanwhile praised the nominee’s “amazing public service career,” and commitment to “equal access to justice,” noting her as someone who has earned the respect of both Democrats and Republicans within the Granite State’s legal community.

Nominated by Biden in September, Elliott comes from the Concord, New Hampshire-based firm Gallagher, Callahan & Gartrell where she served as a partner and vice president since 2006.

Wednesday's votes follow the Senate's confirmation on Wednesday of Lucy Koh, formerly a U.S. district judge, to the Ninth Circuit. The vote was also largely along party lines with 50 votes in favor and 45 against. Koh becomes the first Korean-American woman to sit on a federal circuit court.

The newly confirmed Ninth Circuit Judge Sung was nominated by Biden in July. Senator Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from Wyoming, did not vote in Sung’s confirmation vote Wednesday.

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