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Who champions judicial nominees from Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico?

Nonvoting House members have an informal, but substantial, role

Corrected Wednesday, 4:30 p.m. | Senators play a crucial advisory role in championing federal court nominees from their states, but what about nominees who have no senators?

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 97-0 to confirm Robert A. Molloy as judge for the District Court of the Virgin Islands and 96-0 to confirm Silvia Carreño-Coll as judge for the District of Puerto Rico. Both are territorial court appointments with 10-year terms.

Both Molloy and Carreño-Coll were recommended by nonvoting House delegates representing the territories where they will hear federal cases.

That’s a change from the more formal process in the Senate, where senators typically work with the White House on a list of candidates for the federal bench and the Judiciary Committee honors the so-called blue slip process. That process gives senators the ability to approve or oppose the president’s court nominations in their home states — at least for nominees at the district court level. (The blue slip process for circuit court nominees has been curtailed in recent years by Judiciary Chairmen Charles E. Grassley and Lindsey Graham, both Republicans.)

But what about district and circuit courts presiding over the U.S. territories, which don’t have senators in Washington? What kind of voice do places like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have on who sits on the federal benches in their communities?

An informal but substantial one, it turns out.

Last spring, the Trump administration approached Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett, a nonvoting House Democrat, about filling the district court seat that had sat vacant since 2015.

Plaskett recommended Molloy, the islands’ former assistant attorney general and a judge on the Superior Court panel that hears civil cases. Last May, the president sent Molloy’s name to the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration.

Molloy’s unanimous confirmation Tuesday is “evidence of the possibility of bi-partisan collaboration and successful joint efforts between the parties,” Plaskett said in a statement.

Carreño-Coll was similarly guided to confirmation by Puerto Rico’s Jenniffer González-Colón, the island’s nonvoting Republican resident commissioner.

González-Colón reached out to Carreño-Coll as early as August 2018 to gauge her interest in the position before sending a recommendation to the White House.

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the length of term for an appointment to the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. It is a lifetime appointment.

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