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Seven-year vacancy on NJ court finally filled with Biden nom

As the Senate confirmed Evelyn Padin to the federal bench, the president made three more court appointments.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The Senate voted Wednesday to fill two U.S. District Court openings, one of which has sat vacant in New Jersey for seven years.

U.S. District Judge Faith Hochberg retired from the court in 2015, but Republicans blocked then-President Barack Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy, and President Donald Trump never nominated a candidate to the open seat.

On Wednesday, the Senate finally plugged that hole with a 51-43 vote to confirm Evelyn Padin, securing her place as the second Latina to serve as a federal judge in the Garden State. The court Padin joins still has one judicial vacancy.

Padin founded her own law practice focused on civil and family law in 1995 but started her career as an associate at Linares & Coviello. She is also the former president of the New Jersey State Bar Association and spent time as a trustee to the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey. Before she went to law school, Padin spent several years as a social worker in New Jersey and New York.

In addition a master's in social work from Fordham University, Padin earned her undergraduate degree from Rutgers University and her law degree from Seton Hall University School of Law.

Separately Wednesday, the Senate voted 48-46 to confirm Charlotte Sweeney for a judgeship in the District of Colorado.

In addition to being the first openly gay federal judge in her state, Sweeney will be the first openly LGBT woman to be a federal judge in any state west of the Mississippi.

She spent the past 14 years as a partner at Sweeney & Bechtold, her own Denver-based law practice focused on representing clients in employment disputes. Sweeney previously served for a decade as a partner at LaFond & Sweeney, a firm she co-founded in 1999. She earned her undergraduate degree from California Lutheran University and her law degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

Sweeney faced little scrutiny from the Senate Judiciary Committee during her nomination hearing back in October, but every Republican on the panel voted against advancing her nomination, a move that delayed her confirmation.

Now that she's confirmed, Sweeney will replace R. Brooke Jackson, an Obama nominee who took senior status from his seat on the Colorado court back in September.

This morning, President Joe Biden announced another three new nominees to the federal bench, bringing his total number of federal judicial nominees to 98.

Doris Pryor, currently a federal magistrate for the Southern District of Indiana, is nominated to the Chicago-headquartered Seventh Circuit.

Before she became a judge, Pryor was an assistant U.S. attorney in Indiana for more than a decade and spent a year as a deputy public defender in Arkansas. At the start of her career, Pryor clerked for judges in the Eastern District of Arkansas and on the Eighth Circuit. 

Biden also named Rachel Bloomekatz to fill a seat on the Sixth Circuit. Bloomekatz currently works in private practice at a Columbus-based firm she founded in 2019.

Previously, Bloomekatz worked at Gupta Wessler PLLC and Jones Day in Ohio. From 2010 to 2011, she was an assistant attorney general in Boston. At the start of her career, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer as well as judges on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts and the Manhattan-based Second Circuit.

Judge Florence Pan was also announced as a nominee to fill a seat on the D.C. Circuit.

Pan has been a 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.

From 1999 to 2009, Pan was an assistant U.S. attorney in D.C., working in the office's appellate division. She also worked for a time at the Treasury Department, advising on financial markets and domestic finances. and at the Department of Justice as an appellate attorney.

She clerked for judges on both the Second Circuit and in the Southern District of New York.

Earlier in the morning on Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony from a slew of nominees to the federal bench, including two former public defenders nominated to serve as federal appeals judges.

Judge Sarah Merriam, who presides in the District of Connecticut and is Biden's nominee to the Second Circuit, and Lara Montecalvo, a public defender in Rhode Island and nominee to the First Circuit, faced scrutiny from the panel.

Before her time as a judge, Merriam served as a federal public defender in Connecticut from 2007 to 2015, a background rarely seen on the federal bench but increasingly common among Biden nominees.

Merriman's history won applause from Democrats on the panel, including Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, who highlighted the 22 letters sent to the committee from prosecutors backing her nomination.

Republicans on the committee were skeptical about Merriam's judicial philosophy, with Senator Mike Lee of Utah asking about what guides her courtroom decision making.

“My only judicial philosophy is that the text of a document, the Constitution, a statute or a rule, and binding precedent are what guide me. Rule of law and predictability are what matters, “ Merriam said.

Montecalvo has worked with the public defender's office in Rhode Island since 2004 and was questioned by Republican Senators Chuck Grassley and Marsha Blackburn about a petition her office filed during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic requesting that the state Supreme Court end cash bail amid the crisis.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court denied the petition. Criticizing Montecalvo's petition on Wednesday, Blackburn called cash bail a critical means of “keeping violent offenders off our streets,” though there is no conclusive evidence that bail reform causes an increase in violent crime.

"Our rationale for our request was that the winter wave of Covid was coming and that the prison and the public health experts at the prison had thought more space within the prison would help the prison address the incoming pandemic," Montecalvo said.

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