Updated at 4:35 p.m.
Two lawyers who have served in the Obama administration will be joining the federal district court in the Southern District of New York after they won Senate confirmation — one of them by a narrow margin.
Senators voted 48-44 today to confirm Alison Nathan, a former associate White House counsel who drew opposition because of her writings on subjects including the death penalty and because of her relative youth. Nathan is 39. On a voice vote, senators also confirmed Katherine Forrest, a deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust and former partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
Republicans lined up against Nathan, citing some of the several opinion pieces she wrote that called for greater scrutiny of how states carry out the death penalty. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said her writings indicate she will pursue specific outcomes, regardless of constitutional constraints.
“I believe her record evidences an activist viewpoint. Perhaps if she had more legal experience, she would have a better understanding of the role of a judge,” said Sessions, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Nathan spent four years as an associate at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and she taught at Fordham University. Since leaving the White House last year, she has served as a special counsel to New York’s state solicitor general. She’s also a former clerk to Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens.
Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) praised Nathan and Forrest and said that conservatives’ doubts about Nathan have no merit. “Now that is a world of experience,” he said of Nathan’s résumé. Schumer also cited a letter that Nathan’s Supreme Court co-clerks signed supporting her confirmation.
The American Bar Association’s rating of Nathan’s experience was mixed. A majority said she was “qualified,” the middle of three ratings, and a minority said she was “not qualified,” but Schumer said the Senate confirmed 33 nominees of President George W. Bush with the same rating as Nathan.
The Southern District of New York, which includes Manhattan, is among the most high-profile federal courts in the nation. It’s home to high-stakes business litigation and white-collar criminal cases such as that of former hedge-fund manager Raj Rajaratnam, who was sentenced today for insider trading.
Senators also confirmed a third judicial nominee today: Susan Hickey, a former career federal law clerk who is now a state judge, for U.S. District Court for the Western District of Arkansas.