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Senate panel ties over Sixth Circuit nominee with history of gun control work

Rachel Bloomekatz drew Republican ire at her confirmation hearing for her work on several cases alongside Everytown for Gun Safety.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Rachel Bloomekatz, nominated to fill a seat on the Sixth Circuit, received a tie vote from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday after Republicans condemned the nominee for her work on gun control and pro bono cases.

Bloomekatz works in private practice at a Columbus, Ohio-based firm she founded, and she previously worked in private practice and as an assistant attorney general in Boston. She also recently worked as state counsel for the Ohio branch of the Biden-Harris campaign.

She faced Republican blowback during her confirmation hearing back in June, with GOP lawmakers criticizing her work as a co-counsel alongside Everytown for Gun Safety in several cases.

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana pushed for Bloomekatz to voice whether she 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 told Kennedy, before he interrupted her explanation.

"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,” Kennedy said.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri similarly criticized Bloomekatz for working on a pro bono case in 2001 where she defended a 15-year-old who was sentenced to more than 100 years in prison for robbing, kidnapping and raping a woman with a group of other people. 

Bloomekatz argued in court that his sentence was egregiously long for a juvenile and violated the Eighth Amendment.

Faced with scrutiny from Hawley over the case at her confirmation hearing, Bloomekatz defended her work.

"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 at the time.

Her nomination is expected to still advance out of committee, but the tie vote will drag out her confirmation process, requiring the full Senate to hold an extra vote to move her nomination forward.

The panel also voted 11-9 to advance the nomination of Ana Reyes, who is poised to become the first LGBTQ judge and first Hispanic woman to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Ana Reyes. (Williams & Connolly via Courthouse News)

Reyes has spent more than 20 years as a partner at the Washington law firm of Williams & Connolly.

Senator Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the committee, voted against Bloomekatz's and Reyes’ nominations.

“Both have a history of progressive litigation that raises concerns that they’ll be activists on the bench,” Grassley said Thursday.

Grassley also opposed the advancement of Judge Doris Pryor, Biden’s pick for the Seventh Circuit and the first of his circuit court nominees to get approval from two Republican home-state senators.

Despite Grassley's opposition, Pryor advanced through the committee by a vote of 13-9.

She is a federal magistrate judge in the Southern District of Indiana and has the support of both of the state’s Republican senators, Mike Braun and Todd Young. Her nomination marks the first time in Biden’s presidency that a nominee has gotten the blue slip of approval from two Republican senators.

Pryor briefly served as a public defender and spent more than a decade as an assistant U.S. attorney in Indiana.

"Receiving blue slips from two Republican senators, in this case Senators Young and Braun, is extraordinary in this committee and I hope there'll be more evidence of that kind of cooperation," Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin, chairman of the committee, said of Pryor's confirmation.

The panel also advanced three nominees – Maria del Antongiorgi-Jordán, Judge Gina Méndez-Miró and Judge Camille L. Vélez-Rivé – who are all slated to serve as district court judges in Puerto Rico.

Antongiorgi-Jordán is a clerk of court in Puerto Rico and spent more than two decades in private practice, working as a partner at the law firm of McConnell Valdés in San Juan. She advanced through the committee by a vote of 14-8.

Vélez-Rivé, who also advanced by a vote of 14-8, has been a magistrate judge in Puerto Rico for 18 years. She previously worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and as an associate with Pietrantoni Méndez, a law firm in San Juan.

Méndez-Miró garnered a vote of support of 11-9. She would be the first openly LGBTQ federal judge in Puerto Rico and currently serves on the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals.

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