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Senate confirms voting rights lawyer as New York federal judge

Dale Ho argued at the Supreme Court on a successful challenge to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census

Dale Ho, right, approaches microphones with other lawyers to speak to reporters outside of the Supreme Court after arguments in 2019 over a citizenship question the Trump administration sought to add to the 2020 census.
Dale Ho, right, approaches microphones with other lawyers to speak to reporters outside of the Supreme Court after arguments in 2019 over a citizenship question the Trump administration sought to add to the 2020 census. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The Senate on Wednesday confirmed voting rights lawyer Dale Ho to be a federal judge in New York, a nominee who followed a less traditional career path to the bench through work at the American Civil Liberties Union.

The chamber voted 50-49 on his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, with West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III voting against his nomination and South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott not voting.

Ho’s confirmation is seen as an accomplishment for President Joe Biden and Democrats who have aimed to confirm candidates with personal and professional diversity. Ho also previously worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc.

“Very few federal judges in history have been appointed to the federal bench directly from our nation’s oldest civil rights organizations,” The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights tweeted about Ho this month. “We need more.”

At the ACLU, Ho argued at the Supreme Court on a successful challenge to the inclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The group contended the Trump administration’s stated reason for adding that question was contrived and would lead to undercounting undocumented immigrants.

Hours before Ho’s confirmation vote, Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer called it a “big week for judges here in the Senate.” The chamber, he said, also plans to advance the appeals court nomination of Julie Rikelman, who argued before the Supreme Court on behalf of an abortion clinic in a case where the justices overturned Roe v. Wade.

The professional backgrounds of Ho and Rikelman make them two of the most closely watched judicial nominees this session.

In Ho’s nomination, progressive groups lauded the former Southern District law clerk for his work on voting rights while Republicans argued he was far too political for the federal bench.

Ho is the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project and supervises the organization’s voting rights litigation across the country, according to the organization’s website. Ho, a graduate of Yale Law School, was a law clerk in the Southern District of New York and at the New York Court of Appeals, the highest state court in New York.

Schumer said he recommended Ho to Biden. The New York Democrat has said the judiciary needs more people like Ho, describing him at a confirmation hearing as “one of the nation’s leading experts on election law and on voting rights.”

“As voting rights come under assault across the country, it is only fitting that we elevate one of the country’s top voting rights experts to safeguard our democracy and preserve our fundamental rights as U.S. citizens,” Schumer said at the hearing.

Ho’s nomination spurred sharp criticism from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who said that Ho has a history of attacking Senate colleagues on Twitter.

“Somebody who wants a lifetime appointment as an impartial judge must be committed to putting the rule of law ahead of personal policy views, not the other way around,” McConnell said in a floor speech earlier this month.

Republicans outlined their opposition to Ho’s nomination at his December 2021 confirmation hearing, where they sought to cast doubt on his temperament.

Ho told lawmakers he regretted the tone he took at times on social media and the times he crossed the line with overheated rhetoric. But he said that did not reflect how he’s shown up in court or conducted himself in professional settings.

“If confirmed, I’ll do everything I can to ensure that everyone who comes before the court gets a fair shake, a fair opportunity to be heard, and ultimately equal treatment under the law,” Ho said.

Biden named Ho as a nominee for the district court seat in 2021. The White House renominated Ho this Congress after he and others did not get confirmed in the previous session.

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