U.S. Senate panel advances public defender vets up for judgeships
- Law Firms
- Senate panel advances nominations of Montecalvo, Merriam
- Biden has nominated 26 current or former public defenders to the bench
(Reuters) - A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday advanced President Joe Biden's nomination of two women with experience working as public defenders representing indigent defendants to serve as federal appellate judges.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in separate 12-10 votes cleared the way for the full Senate to consider confirming Lara Montecalvo to serve on the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and U.S. District Judge Sarah Merriam to join the New York-based 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The panel also advanced two district court picks, Tiffany Cartwright, a civil rights litigator at MacDonald Hoague & Bayless nominated to the Western District of Washington, and Colorado nominee U.S. Magistrate Judge Nina Nin-Yuen Wang.
Montecalvo, Merriam and Cartwright each garnered only a single Republican vote in their favor from Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who has often bucked his party to vote for Biden's nominees.
Montecalvo and Merriam are among the 26 current or former public defenders whom Biden has nominated to the federal bench, according to the progressive group Alliance for Justice. Progressive advocates argue that bench has been overly dominated by former prosecutors and former partners at corporate law firms.
Biden nominated Merriam last year to her current position as a district court judge in Connecticut, and the Senate confirmed her on a 54-46 vote. Before becoming a judge, she served as a federal public defender in Connecticut from 2007 to 2015.
"She is a judge's judge, and she will be an extraordinary addition to the 2nd Circuit," said Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who recommended her.
Montecalvo leads the Rhode Island Public Defender's Office, which she joined in 2004. Her nomination garnered the support of a broad array of her state's legal and law enforcement establishment, including the entire Rhode Island Supreme Court.
During a May 25 hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel's ranking Republican, questioned Montecalvo about her role in advocating early in the COVID-19 pandemic for the release of inmates to alleviate health risks in the state's prisons.
He asked her about her reasoning for asking the Rhode Island Supreme Court to ease bail requirements for defendants awaiting trial, a position the state's court rejected in December 2020 as unnecessary.
Montecalvo cited an anticipated winter surge of COVID-19 within the state's prisons as the reason. She said she was "proud" of working with prosecutors earlier in the pandemic to secure the release of 52 people whose sentences were near their end.
Biden's latest judicial nominees dominated by public defenders
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