Biden circuit nominees defend careers amid Republican criticism

The United States Capitol Dome is seen before dawn in Washington March 22, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
  • 9th Circuit nominee Jennifer Sung apologized amid criticism for signing a letter critical of Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination
  • Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson pledged impartiality on the federal bench after long career as LGBTQ advocate

Republicans on the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee grilled two federal appeals court nominees on Tuesday on their past advocacy for civil rights and workers, as Democrats touted the careers of President Joe Biden's picks for the 2nd and 9th U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and the diversity they would bring to the bench.

Republicans focused much of their questioning on 9th Circuit nominee Jennifer Sung, who signed a letter with other Yale Law School graduates in 2018 criticizing rulings from then-U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh as "intellectually and morally bankrupt."

"Do you believe he is or not? How hard is that?" U.S. Senator John Kennedy, the Louisiana Republican, asked. "You'll have much harder questions as a federal judge if you make it that far."

Sung said on Tuesday the letter contained "overheated rhetoric" about Kavanaugh, a Yale law graduate who faced a blistering confirmation proceeding.

"I can assure you that I respect completely the authority of Justice Kavanaugh," Sung said.

Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson, poised to become the first openly LGBTQ woman to serve on any federal appeals court, defended her work as a plaintiffs' lawyer arguing for marriage equality. Robinson was nominated for a seat on the New York-based 2nd Circuit.

Biden so far has nominated 13 judges to federal appeals courts, and the Senate has confirmed four. The fast pace of Biden's judicial confirmations has not been seen since the Nixon administration, Reuters reported on Monday.

Sung has been a member of the Oregon Employment Relations Board since 2017. She earlier worked for four years in Portland at McKanna Bishop Joffe, and she was an associate in San Francisco at Altshuler Berzon from 2007 to 2013.

U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, the Oregon Democrat, described Sung as a "steadfast champion for American workers."

Sung was among scores of Yale alums who signed the 2018 letter condemning Yale for a news release that quoted professors praising Kavanaugh.

On Tuesday, Sung said that "if by signing the letter, I created the impression that I would fail to respect Justice Kavanaugh's authority as a Supreme Court justice, or any of the justices' authority, or their precedents, then I do sincerely apologize."

Robinson joined the Vermont state bench in 2011 after an 18-year career at Langrock Sperry & Wool. She served as co-counsel to the plaintiffs in a landmark Vermont state case that held in 1999 that same-sex couples were entitled to broad legal protections.

"Justice Robinson is undeniably one of the most notable champions of equal rights and equal justice, and in particular, she is one of our nation's most important pioneers in advancing LGBT rights," said U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who caucuses with the Democrats, in opening remarks on Tuesday.

U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the judiciary committee, questioned Robinson's lack of experience in handling securities, antitrust and other types of cases that make up the 2nd Circuit's docket. Robinson said she was up for the challenge of learning new areas of the law.

Robinson told Republican and Democratic members that her prior advocacy as a plaintiffs' lawyer had ended.

"There's no space for a politically oriented person on the bench," she said. "For the last decade, that prior part of my life, of which I'm very proud, ceased to guide my work upholding the rule of law."

The Senate on Tuesday voted 51-44 to end debate on the nomination of Veronica Rossman to the Denver-based 10th Circuit, setting up a possible confirmation vote in the coming days.

Editor's Note: This story was updated to include the Tuesday cloture vote on the nomination of Veronica Rossman for the 10th Circuit.

Read more:

Biden judicial picks win Senate backing at pace not seen since Nixon

Ex-Ginsburg clerk sees bipartisan support for 4th Circuit nomination

Eunice Lee, longtime NY public defender, confirmed to 2nd Circuit

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.