U.S. Senate casts first judicial vote of 2022, sends Sanchez to 9th Circuit

3 minute read

Gabriel Sanchez, a nominee to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, appears before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., on November 3, 2021. U.S. Senate/Handout via Reuters

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  • Senate confirms Gabriel Sanchez to sit on California-based 9th Circuit
  • Judge M. Margaret McKeown to take senior status, creating new 9th Circuit vacancy

(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Wednesday cast its first vote of the new year for one of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees as it confirmed Gabriel Sanchez for a seat on the California-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Sanchez, a justice on a California state appeals court, whose nomination to the nation's largest federal appeals court was held over from the Senate's 2021 session, was approved on a 52-47 vote.

Republicans agreed ahead of the holidays to allow the far-advanced nominations of Sanchez and Holly Thomas, another 9th Circuit nominee, to be held over, allowing Biden to avoid having to re-nominate them and re-start much of the process.

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The vote was further delayed a week due to a winter storm in Washington, D.C.

Sanchez, who is Latino, is the 12th of Biden's appellate nominees to win confirmation overall and the third to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit following Lucy Koh and Jennifer Sung.

Sanchez succeeds U.S. Circuit Judge Marsha Berzon, an appointee of former Democratic President Bill Clinton who last year announced plans to take senior status.

Presidents can fill the seats created when judges take that status, which is a form of semi-retirement.

A new vacancy emerged on the 9th Circuit on Tuesday, when U.S. Circuit Judge M. Margaret McKeown, another Clinton appointee, informed Biden of her plans to take senior status.

Sanchez, a Yale Law School graduate, worked as an associate at law firm Munger, Tolles & Olson from 2006 to 2011 before leaving for a short stint as a deputy attorney general in California.

He went on to serve under former California governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, as his deputy legal affairs secretary from 2012 to 2018, at which time Brown appointed the Los Angeles native to serve on the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District.

During a Nov. 3 hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican senators grilled Sanchez about his role in drafting and implementing a ballot measure passed in 2016 that allowed for earlier parole for most inmates in California.

The measure, Proposition 57, passed after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2011 concluded California's overcrowding of prisons violated the U.S. Constitution's bar against cruel and unusual punishments, a point Sanchez stressed.

Sanchez said that in Brown's view, the measure was the "safer way to approach the problem." But Republicans including Senator Ted Cruz of Texas argued Sanchez's efforts to advance the measure under Brown allowed violent offenders to be released.

Read more:

GOP questions 9th Circuit nominee Sanchez on California parole reform

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