Updated at 1:21 p.m.
The U.S. Senate today unanimously confirmed Judge Denny Chin to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, as Democrats continued to inch through a backlog of lower-court judicial nominees.
Chin will be elevated from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, where he drew national attention for sentencing financier Bernard Madoff to 150 years in prison for orchestrating a massive Ponzi scheme. Born in Hong Kong, Chin will be the only active Asian-American judge on a federal appellate court.
The 98-0 vote came despite months of anonymous objections to scheduling a confirmation vote. The Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed Chin’s nomination Dec. 10, and since then Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has blamed Republicans for the delays.
In a statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) called Chin's nomination a "historic achievement" that was "long overdue" because of the anonymous objections.
No Republicans spoke about Chin’s nomination Thursday although, in written questions they sent him last year, two of the Senate’s most conservative senators expressed some concerns. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), the Senate Judiciary Committee’s top Republican, and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) asked Chin about his rulings that struck down registration for sex offenders. The 2nd Circuit reversed Chin, they noted.
“I am concerned,” Coburn wrote in one question, “that you may have an extreme view of the law that places greater weight in favor of the perpetrators of sexual assault rather than their victims and the communities in which they may live.”
Chin replied that he accepted the reversals. “These were difficult issues, and although it reversed me, the Second Circuit commented that I had written a ‘thoughtful decision,’ ” he wrote.
Sessions also asked Chin about comments from his confirmation hearing, during which Chin praised diversity in the judiciary. And he asked Chin about a 2003 speech in which Chin said he was a “judicial activist” in the sense of trying “to get out there, to be seen and heard” as a judge. Chin replied that race and ethnicity have no rule in judicial decision-making and that he believes in judicial restraint.
Three other judges were confirmed this week. On Wednesday, the Senate voted 77-20 to confirm Judge Thomas Vanaskie to the 3rd Circuit. On Thursday, the Senate confirmed two nominees, Marisa Demeo and Stuart Nash, to the D.C. Superior Court.
Chin has been a federal district judge since 1994. He was previously a partner at New York’s Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard and a name partner at Campbell, Patrick & Chin. From 1982 to 1986, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York. He started his career as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell after law school at Fordham University.
In response to a Senate questionnaire, Chin wrote that a Justice Department official first contacted him about a 2nd Circuit nomination on July 14, 2009 — two weeks after Chin sentenced Madoff. Since at least 2008, he wrote, groups including the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the AFL-CIO had asked him if he would object to their presenting his name for the circuit. President Barack Obama nominated Chin Oct. 6.
The 2nd Circuit is in the midst of the worst judicial emergency in the nation, as defined by the Judicial Conference of the United States. There are 920 “adjusted filings per panel,” compared with a threshold for emergencies of 700 adjusted filings per panel.
Obama now has two pending nominees for the circuit’s three other vacancies. One of those two, Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Lohier Jr., has his confirmation hearing today at 3 p.m.