Sen. Jeff Sessions is settling in as the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, asking difficult questions today of two nominees at his first confirmation hearing in his new role.
Sessions (R-Ala.) pressed a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit about a decision on jury instructions in a pornography case, and he asked the nominee to head the Justice Department’s Tax Division whether she has enough relevant experience for the job.
Still, both nominees are expected to win confirmation. Significant opposition has not appeared for either one, and Sessions said he was keeping an open mind, even as he took up the responsibility of leading the opposition.
“You have virtually no experience in tax work, it seems to me,” Sessions told Mary Smith, a partner with Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Scharf in Chicago.
Smith, an associate White House counsel from 2000 to 2001 and the highest-ranking American Indian in the Clinton administration during that time, responded by pointing to the two years she spent as senior litigation counsel at Tyco International. She joined the manufacturing company in August 2005, after the conviction of former chief executive Dennis Kozlowski for fraud and other charges. She said she was responsible for litigation that grew out of the case, managing all outside counsel, including 100 contract lawyers.
“I have to say that I delved in deeply to that and knew the facts about the accounting issues better than many other people in the case,” Smith said.
Sessions wasn’t convinced: “I don’t know why that would be necessary, to choose someone with not much experience in an area.”
U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch, nominated for the 2nd Circuit, faced similarly tough questions from Sessions, a former U.S. attorney. Now sitting in the Southern District of New York, Lynch has a diverse résumé that includes time as a tenured law professor at Columbia, counsel at Covington & Burling, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, and associate counsel in two independent counsel investigations.
Sessions criticized Lynch’s handling of a case in which the judge planned to inform the jury of the mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years. The defendant was an 18-year-old charged with “advertising” child pornography, not creating or distributing it. Prosecutors filed for an emergency stay with the 2nd Circuit, arguing that the instructions would cause the jury to acquit the defendant on the basis of the sentence, and the appellate court overturned Lynch’s proposed instructions.
Sessions held it up as an example of Lynch inserting his personal view into a case, while Lynch defended his position, arguing that the information would have been appropriate given the circumstances of the case.