Innocence Project lawyer, nominated to be judge, faces GOP attacks

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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  • Nina Morrison nominated to be a judge in New York
  • Republicans questioned her support of progressive prosecutors

Senate Republicans on Wednesday called a judicial nominee whose legal career has focused on exonerating people who have been wrongly convicted through DNA evidence a backer of "soft on crime" polices that have fueled a rise in murders.

Nina Morrison, a senior lawyer at the Innocence Project, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee along with two of President Joe Biden's other judicial picks after the Democrat nominated her in December to become a federal judge in Brooklyn.

Since joining the Innocence Project in 2002, 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 was then Emery, Cuti, Brinckerhoff & Abady.

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"Hers is truly laudable work," said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who recommended Morrison to succeed U.S. District Judge Dora Irizarry in the Eastern District of New York, who took senior status in 2020.

Republicans, though, spent much of the hearing asking Morrison about her past support for progressive prosecutors who have used their positions to push for criminal justice reform.

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 non-violent crimes.

"Do you think judges should be able to do that, say I don't agree with this criminal statute and I'm not going to hear cases for any of them?" asked Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, a Republican.

Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas said Morrison had made "a business of supporting these soft-on-crime prosecutors who release violent criminals" and that murder rates had been on the rise in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

He said the Innocence Project had "done good work on behalf of people who were wrongly convicted," who he added should be released.

"But do you care about the innocent people who are murdered?" he asked Morrison. "Because you keep advising people who put policies in place that result in more innocent people being murdered."

Morrison responded that she was "aware that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic the murder rate is up nationally" and that she had a "strong interest in the successful prosecution of murder cases."

"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.