U.S. Senate panel deadlocks on abortion rights lawyer's judicial nomination

Julie Rikelman, an abortion rights lawyer who represented the Mississippi clinic at the heart of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to overturn it's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her nomination to become a federal appeals court judge for the First Circuit, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
  • Senate panel deadlocks on 1st Circuit nominee Julie Rikelman
  • Rikelman argued losing side of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization

Dec 1 - A U.S. Senate panel on Thursday was deadlocked on whether to support President Joe Biden's nomination to the federal bench of an abortion rights lawyer who argued the losing side of the U.S. Supreme Court case that led to Roe v. Wade being overturned.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-11 along party lines on Julie Rikelman's nomination to the Boston-based 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals even as the panel agreed to advance 11 of Biden's other judicial nominees.

Those other nominees included two for appellate courts: Anthony Johnstone for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and Maria Kahn for the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Kahn serves on the Connecticut Supreme Court, and Johnstone is a law professor at the University of Montana.

The committee's Thursday actions clear the way for the full Democratic-led Senate to consider adding to Biden's tally of 87 confirmed judicial nominees, a majority of whom have been women and people of color.

The deadlocked vote by the evenly divided panel means that Rikelman will face an additional procedural hurdle as the Senate must vote to discharge her nomination from the committee before any final vote if it considers her during its lame-duck session.

Biden nominated Rikelman a month after the conservative-majority Supreme Court in June overturned its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized a woman's constitutional right to an abortion and legalized it nationwide in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization.

Rikelman, an abortion rights lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, had represented the Mississippi clinic at the heart of that case. Republicans painted her as an activist and broadly questioned her impartiality.

"She is surely is entitled to her opinions, and she certainly holds them very strongly," said Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel's ranking Republican. "But it's concerning that her personal opinion may cloud how she views facts."

But Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois said she was an "exceptional candidate" who made clear when testifying before the panel in September that she would respect and follow the Dobbs decision, which she said was now the "law of the land."

"Let's be clear, Ms. Rikelman advocated a mainstream position in defending Roe v. Wade, which was a 50-year precedent decided 7-2 by the Supreme Court challenging laws that sought to prevent women from accessing reproductive health care," he said.

Rikelman could not be reached for comment.

Read more:

Abortion rights lawyer vows as judge to follow U.S. Supreme Court ruling

Biden nominates abortion rights lawyer in U.S. Supreme Court case to federal judgeship

U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, ends constitutional right to abortion

(NOTE: This Dec. 1 article has been corrected to remove references to a vote on DeAndrea Benjamin's judicial nomination, which did not occur at that hearing.)

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