Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to move ahead with the nomination of Mary Smith to head the Justice Department’s Tax Division, over Republican objections that Smith lacks significant relevant experience.
At a committee meeting, three Republican senators spoke against Smith, noting that she has never held a job specializing in tax law. She has never written or spoken on tax issues, does not have a specialized degree, and has never taken a continuing legal education course in tax law, said the committee Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.).
“Tax law is very specialized and it’s certainly not an area where you learn on the job,” Sessions said. He argued that Smith could be an embarrassment to the administration, saying, “You should not put people in a job they’re not prepared to handle.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) called Smith the “worst choice” that President Barack Obama has made in all of his appointments. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the Republican whip, said there must be “thousands of highly experienced tax lawyers who would love to have a job like this.”
No Democrats spoke in defense of Smith before voting for her, though Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that the committee has received letters supporting her nomination, including one from former Solicitor General Ted Olson of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher calling her a “first-rate litigator.” Nathan Hochman, who led the division at the end of the Bush administration and is now a partner at Bingham McCutchen, also submitted a letter calling her a “good choice” and saying her “experience in complex financial litigation gives her a working background for the type of cases litigated by the Division.”
Smith is a partner at Schoeman Updike Kaufman & Scharf in Chicago. She was an associate White House counsel at the end of the Clinton administration. When Sessions questioned her qualifications at her confirmation hearing May 12, Smith referred to her two years as senior litigation counsel at Tyco International.
The committee voted 12-7 along party lines to send Smith’s nomination to the full Senate.
Senators found more agreement in endorsing U.S. District Judge Gerard Lynch of the Southern District of New York for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. They sent his nomination to the full Senate on a voice vote, even though Republicans have criticized his proposed jury instructions in a pornography case in which the defendant faced up to 10 years in prison; prosecutors feared that the instructions, which would have included the possible prison term, would have caused the jury to acquit on the basis of the sentence, and the 2nd Circuit overruled Lynch.
“It does not appear to be a pattern to me,” said Kyl, who along with Sessions spoke in favor of Lynch.