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Senate Judiciary Committee sends DC Circuit nominee to the floor

Childs had been widely discussed as a potential Supreme Court pick for President Joe Biden earlier this year

J. Michelle Childs testifies in April during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
J. Michelle Childs testifies in April during her Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing to be on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced the nomination of Judge J. Michelle Childs for the influential federal appeals court in Washington, in a bipartisan 17-5 vote that sets up a later final confirmation vote on the Senate floor.

Childs, who was widely discussed as one of several Black women judges on a shortlist for President Joe Biden’s first nomination to the Supreme Court, had the backing of all Democrats and most Republicans on the panel for a spot on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Nominees for the D.C. Circuit often attract controversy during the confirmation process because the court handles cases of national sweep on environmental, labor, immigration and other policy issues.

On Thursday, South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham praised Childs’ work as a federal district judge and state judge in his home state. Graham had been vocal in his support for her as Biden’s high court nominee, but the president selected Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed in April.

During Jackson’s confirmation process, Graham and Republicans frequently pointed to Childs as a nominee with a better chance to get bipartisan support in a bid to be the Supreme Court’s first Black woman.

“From my point of view, she is somebody who would not have been chosen by a conservative Republican, but, in my view, is somebody highly qualified to do the job,” Graham said.

Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley, the panel’s ranking member, said at the meeting Thursday that liberal criticisms of Childs made him like her more.

“I was more likely to support her after seeing how dishonest some liberal, dark-money groups are campaigning against her when she is a possible nominee to the Supreme Court,” Grassley said.

Other nominees

The committee soon will consider another nominee for the D.C. Circuit. Separately, on Wednesday evening, Biden nominated Florence Y. Pan for the vacancy left behind as Jackson heads to the Supreme Court.

Pan, a federal district judge in Washington, would be the first Chinese American to serve on the D.C. Circuit, according to the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association.

The Biden administration has made a concerted push to put more women and minorities on the federal bench.

Committee Chair Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., praised Childs’ record, as well as the work by the other nominees whom the committee voted on Thursday. In addition to Childs’ nomination, the panel advanced the nominations of Nusrat Jahan Choudhury, Natasha C. Merle and Ana de Alba to district court posts on 12-10 votes.

That cooperation didn’t extend to a deadlocked vote on Judge Nancy Abudu’s nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Grassley spotlighted Abudu’s work with the Southern Poverty Law Center and argued the committee as a whole was considering “some the most activist judicial nominees that we’ve seen.”

Grassley pointed to accusations from a federal judge that a litigation team that included SPLC lawyers engaged in “judge shopping” earlier this year. That related to a lawsuit challenging an Alabama law that blocks gender-affirming care for transgender youth, and the judge criticized the team’s dismissal and refiling of the litigation.

Grassley said he didn’t believe Abudu’s statement at her confirmation hearing that she was not involved in the lawsuit. “I don’t know of another nominee that we voted on when we knew a court was investigating possible misconduct,” Grassley said.

Republicans have also asked for another hearing for Choudhury over a statement, attributed to her, that police kill an unarmed Black man every day in America. During her confirmation hearing, Choudhury denied making the statement, and Durbin noted that the statement attributed to her was from a tweet about a panel she participated in.

Durbin also pointed to a letter Choudhury sent to the committee saying she did not make the statement.

“I’ve read her letter to the committee she disavowed the statement. I believe she deserves the benefit of the doubt,” Durbin said.

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