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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
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Senate Dems celebrate 200th Biden admin judicial confirmation amid partisan slugfest over latest nominees

The Senate Judiciary Committee descended into a screaming match over a New York district court nominee just hours before lawmakers met to hail the White House’s major judicial milestone.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Senate Democrats confirmed President Joe Biden’s 200th federal court nominee on Wednesday, putting the White House well on track to surpass the number of lifetime judges appointed by former President Donald Trump.

But even as lawmakers celebrated this major milestone for the White House, the Senate committee charged with examining judicial appointments provided a stark reminder that some Biden nominees won’t get through the upper chamber without a fight.

Democrats were ecstatic as the Senate voted 66-28 Wednesday afternoon to confirm the 200th nominee — Angela Martinez, tapped by the administration to fill a vacancy in the District of Arizona.

During a news conference on the Capitol steps, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Democrats were not only on track to confirm more lifetime judgeships than the Trump administration, but also that the slate of Biden nominees have been among some of the most diverse ever selected for the federal judiciary.

“For too long, the bench didn’t look like America,” Schumer said, “it only looked like a portion of America. We’re making our courts look more like America, something we can all be proud of.”

The Biden administration has confirmed twice as many women and three times as many people of color compared with the Trump administration, the majority leader said. There’s also professional diversity among the judges confirmed under Biden, he added.

“It’s not just partners at big law firms and prosecutors,” said Schumer. “We have public defenders, we have legal aid lawyers, consumer lawyers, immigration lawyers — lawyers who have represented all kinds of people who deserve representation on the bench.”

Senate Minority Leader Dick Durbin, who also chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, pointed out that confirming 200 of the White House’s judicial nominees has not always been an easy task.

Under the first two years of the Biden administration, he recalled, the Senate was evenly divided, and the Judiciary Committee was on several occasions missing a crucial Democratic vote from the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, who was battling illness at the time.

Durbin pointed to bipartisan cooperation between Democrats, Republicans and the White House as a factor in helping the Senate overcome some of those challenges and said that lawmakers would keep pushing to implement the Biden administration’s judicial agenda.

“We’re going to continue this challenge to come up with diversity and to come up with the kind of leaders that make the difference for the future of America and the credibility of the bench,” he said.

As Democrats lauded the White House’s 200th judicial confirmation, though, a partisan firestorm raged in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Republicans ground proceedings to a halt during a confirmation hearing for the latest slate of court nominees.

Among the appointees who faced questioning Wednesday morning was Sarah Netburn, tapped by the Biden administration to join the bench on the Southern District of New York.

GOP lawmakers on the committee dialed in on a 2022 case she presided over as a magistrate judge in the same district, in which she granted the request of an incarcerated transgender woman who asked to move to a women’s prison from a men’s prison. The petitioner was a registered sex offender serving a sentence for distributing child pornography.

Republicans, pointing out that the petitioner had previously served an 18-year sentence for sexually assaulting both an underage boy and girl, framed Netburn’s decision to allow the prison transfer as a political act which put other incarcerated women at risk.

Louisiana Senator John Kennedy labeled the nominee a “political activist,” a charge which she denied.

Netburn argued that she allowed the petitioner to be transferred because she had “serious medical needs,” adding that the petitioner “had engaged in no physical violence and no acts of sexual violence whatsoever” in the years since she had completed her initial sentence.

Republicans were not convinced.

“I think this case demonstrates that you are willing to subjugate the rights of individuals to satisfy your political ideology,” said Texas Senator Ted Cruz. “This is not a judge’s order, this is a political activist’s.”

“The record demonstrates otherwise,” Netburn told the GOP lawmakers. “I applied the law to the facts and came to a fair decision.”

Things quickly devolved into a screaming match as Republicans hammered the nominee on their line of questioning. Durbin, the Judiciary Committee chair, was out of the room at the time — the proceedings were being led by freshman California Senator Laphonza Butler, who struggled to gain control of the chamber.

Democrats were dismissive of the GOP interruptions — California Senator Alex Padilla thanked the nominees for their patience, and Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono later referred to the hearing as “kabuki [theater].”

Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee also heard testimony Wednesday from four other White House nominees, including appointments to the Central District of California and the District of Maine.

Follow @BenjaminSWeiss
Categories / Government, National, Politics

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