For the second time in a month, one of President Barack Obama's nominees for a federal appellate post is splitting senators sharply along party lines.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 11-7 today to advance the nomination of Judge Robert Chatigny for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. All but one Democrat voted for the nomination and all Republicans against it, similar to the committee’s May 13 vote on the nomination of Goodwin Liu for the 9th Circuit. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) voted “pass” on Chatigny, adding later in an interview that she needs to review more of the nomination materials before making up her mind.
Both nominations are likely to be drawn-out fights on the Senate floor.
While Liu, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has drawn fire because of his academic writings and advocacy for liberal causes, Chatigny is getting criticism because of a 2005 death penalty case. Chatigny, of the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, delayed the execution of serial killer Michael Ross by four months and threatened the law license of Ross’ lawyer, spurring an ethics inquiry. Our March story here has more details.
Republicans today accused Chatigny of losing his cool in the case. “The record shows that Judge Chatigny did everything in his power to prevent the execution,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), before the committee’s vote.
Democrats noted that a three-judge committee cleared Chatigny in the ethics inquiry, and they said Chatigny had ample reason to be concerned about the execution, the first in Connecticut in decades, because of questions about Ross’ mental competence.
“Any judge who saw that, who is truly a judge, would say, ‘We need to look at this. This is a problem,’” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the committee’s chairman, said the Republican criticism “ignores the fact that the man was executed.”
“He was eventually executed, yes, but no thanks to Chatigny. He did everything he could to hold up the execution,” said Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).
Without a recorded vote, the committee also advanced the nomination of University of Utah Law Professor Scott Matheson for the 10th Circuit. Kyl, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, criticized a book Matheson wrote last year on executive power, calling the book a “screed” against President George W. Bush, but Kyl did not hold up the nomination.
Updated at 12:27 p.m.