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Senate confirms judges to federal district posts in California, Georgia

Victoria Calvert and Ruth Bermudez Montenegro were confirmed to serve as federal trial court judges in the Northern District of Georgia and Southern District of California, respectively.

WASHINGTON (CN) — While many eyes were on Ketanji Brown Jackson's Supreme Court nomination hearing Tuesday evening, the Senate swiftly confirmed two lower court judges to the federal bench.

Victoria Calvert and Ruth Bermudez Montenegro were both confirmed to serve as federal trial court judges, with Calvert now set to sit on the bench in the Northern District of Georgia and Montenegro now a judge in the Southern District of California.

Calvert, who was confirmed by a vote of 50–46, gained attention during her confirmation hearing for her 10-year career as a staff attorney with Atlanta's Federal Defender Program, a nonprofit organization that provides court-appointed attorneys to indigent defendants.

During Calvert's nomination process, Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised concerns about comments she made during a trial advocacy class at Emory University in which Calvert said that of the government and prosecutors, "they don't see our clients as people."

In the same speech, Calvert asserted, "there's no way I could ever be a prosecutor" — comments that drew criticism from Grassley and several Republicans on the panel about Calvert's ability to be an impartial judge.

In a written response to questions from Grassley, Calvert said she regretted the wording of her speech.

"I would reiterate that the off-the-cuff remarks that I made to a friend’s trial advocacy class were not reflective of the relationships that I have built with many colleagues who are federal prosecutors or how I have comported myself and I deeply regret my poor word choice," Calvert wrote.

Calvert asserted that her approach to judging would differ from her time as a public defender representing clients' interests.

"I also understand that the role of a judge is very different from that of an advocate. If confirmed, I will be fair and impartial to all parties who appear before me, including prosecutors," Calvert wrote.

Despite the controversy, Calvert will become the second Black woman to serve as a judge in the Northern District of Georgia and the first former federal public defender in the state to become a district court judge.

Before her work in public defense, Calvert was an associate at King & Spalding where she worked in the firm's government investigations group and participated in pro bono cases. She is a graduate from Duke University and New York University Law School

Montenegro, who saw little pushback during her nomination hearing, was confirmed by a Senate vote of 55–41.

Up until her confirmation, Montenegro served as a magistrate judge in the Southern District of California and previously held a post as a judge on the Imperial County Superior Court in California. She also worked as assistant county counsel for a year prior to her time on the Imperial County court.

Early on in her career, Montenegro spent nearly a decade working for El Centro Elementary School District as an assistant superintendent for human resources and administrative services and began her legal career as an attorney with the Southern California law firm of Horton, Knox, Carter & Foote.

She earned her associate's degree from Imperial Valley College, her undergraduate degree from Clarion University of Pennsylvania and her law degree from UCLA Law School.

California Senator Alex Padilla, a Democrat, celebrated Montenegro's "nontraditional pathway to the bench" during her December nomination hearing.

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