U.S. Senate confirms Innocence Project lawyer Morrison to be federal judge

3 minute read

Nina Morrison, nominated to be U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of New York, testifies before a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2022. REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz

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  • Senate confirms Morrison as judge in Eastern District of New York
  • Morrison would be second openly LGBT+ judge in Eastern District

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday confirmed Nina Morrison as a federal judge in Brooklyn, placing a senior lawyer at the Innocence Project who has focused her career on exonerating the wrongly convicted on the federal bench.

The Senate voted 53-46 to approve President Joe Biden's nomination of Morrison to serve as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York over Republican claims that she supported "soft on crime" polices.

She was among a series of civil rights litigators recommended to serve on New York's federal courts by the state's senior senator, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, and will be the second openly LGBT+ judge in the Eastern District.

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Since Biden took office in 2021, 66 of his 95 circuit and district court nominees have won confirmation. Democrats are pushing to confirm as many as possible before the midterms, when they risk losing their 50-50 control of the Senate.

Morrison, who declined to comment, has worked since 2002 at the Innocence Project, a New York-based nonprofit dedicated to exonerating the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and by advocating for reforms to the criminal justice system.

Since joining the Innocence Project, Morrison has helped about 30 wrongly convicted people who were ultimately freed from prison or death row, the White House said. She was earlier an associate at what is now Emery Celli Brinckerhoff Abady Ward & Maazel.

"Nina's work on exoneration cases has infused her with a passion for justice but also humility and a holistic view of the criminal and civil legal systems," Barry Scheck, the Innocence Project's co-founder, said in a statement.

She served as an advisor to the transition committees for Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner in 2017 and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón in 2020, both of whom have adopted policies that involved declining to prosecute certain nonviolent crimes.

Those roles opened her up to attack by Republicans such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who claimed she made "a business of supporting these soft-on-crime prosecutors" whose policies had contributed to a rise in murders.

But responding to Cruz during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February, Morrison said she had a "strong interest" in successful murder prosecutions.

"When the wrong person is convicted of murder, the person who has actually committed the crime isn't brought to justice," she said.

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.