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(Reuters) - The U.S. Senate voted on Monday to confirm Veronica Rossman to a seat on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, elevating the public defender to a judgeship amid a push by President Joe Biden to bring more professional diversity to the federal bench.
The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 50-42 to approve Rossman, 49, to serve on the Denver-based appellate court, where she will be the only of its 11 active judges with a background as a federal public defender.
Progressives and proponents of judicial reform have long called for more judges on the bench with experience as public defenders. Christopher Kang, chief counsel of the progressive group Demand Justice, called her confirmation "historic."
"Her work on behalf of the indigent, defending the Constitution and the rights of those accused of crimes will bring much needed balance to a bench overwhelmed with former prosecutors and corporate lawyers," he said in a statement.
Rossman is the 12th of Biden's 43 judicial nominees and the fifth appellate pick to win Senate confirmation, amid a rush by Democrats to shape the judiciary while they still maintain their narrow control of the chamber.
Biden in May nominated the University of California Hastings College of the Law graduate to serve on the 10th Circuit, which hears appeals from Colorado, Utah, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Wyoming.
She was nominated alongside another federal defender, Eunice Lee, who was confirmed to the New York-based 2nd Circuit last month. Rossman takes the seat previously held by U.S. Circuit Judge Carlos Lucero, an appointee of Democratic former President Bill Clinton, who took senior status in February.
Rossman, who immigrated from Russia as a child, was senior counsel to the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Districts of Colorado and Wyoming since 2017. She joined the office in 2010.
During a June hearing, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Senate Judiciary Committee's ranking Republican, questioned if her experience with criminal, rather than civil, cases made her "a good fit for the generalist docket of the 10th Circuit."
Rossman acknowledged her recent experience was in criminal appeals but said earlier in her career, including as an associate for four years at Morrison & Foerster, she was focused on civil matters including antitrust and intellectual property cases.
"This certainly was a long time ago," she said. "But I consider the work that I have done before accessible to me."
Republicans also challenged Rossman on her work seeking the compassionate release of vulnerable inmates due to the risks of COVID-19 pandemic outbreaks in prisons, work she called "incredibly important."
Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri, though, zeroed in her advocacy for a 52-year-old from Colorado with cancer who was being held pre-trial on firearms and ammunition charges stemming from allegedly threatening to kill his adult son and daughter.
When law enforcement searched his home, they found what Hawley called an "arsenal in his home" that included automatic machine guns, silencers and thousands of rounds of ammunition.
"Why would the danger to the community be outweighed in this case by health issues?" he asked.
Rossman noted the 10th Circuit rejected her arguments in that case. But she said federal defenders were "not simply asking to release these individuals onto the street" but proposing bail conditions.