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The Honorable Benjamin L. Cardin
United States Senator
OPENING STATEMENT OF
SENATOR BENJAMIN L. CARDIN
CONFIRMATION HEARING FOR
BARBARA MILANO KEENAN,
LAURIE O. ROBINSON, AAG FOR
KETANJI BROWN JACKSON,
SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
October 7, 2009
The Committee will come to order. Let me thank Chairman Leahy for asking me to chair today's hearing.
Today we consider three of President Obama's nominations to the federal bench, Department of Justice, and an independent judicial branch agency.
Our first panel consists of Barbara Milano Keenan to be U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit.
I take a special interest in the 4th Circuit, as it includes my home state of Maryland. In May 2008 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Justice Steven Agee, who also served on the Virginia Supreme Court and was confirmed to be a U.S. Circuit Judge for the Fourth Circuit. In April 2009 I chaired the confirmation hearing for Judge Andre Davis of Maryland, who is currently a federal district judge in Baltimore. He was favorably reported by this committee by a strong bipartisan vote of 16 to 3 in June of 2009, but unfortunately the full Senate has yet to vote on this nomination.
I mention these nominations by way of background for my colleagues, because the Fourth Circuit has one of the highest vacancy rates in the country today. Out of the 15 seats authorized by Congress, 5 are vacant, which means that one-third of the court's seats are now vacant. Our Circuit Courts of Appeals are the final word for most of our civil and criminal litigants, as the Supreme Court only accepts a handful of cases. I hope that President Obama and the Senate move quickly to nominate and confirm qualified candidates for these seats. I also look forward to increasing the diversity of the judges of the Fourth Circuit.
As I evaluate judicial candidates, I use several criteria. First, I believe judicial nominees must have an appreciation for the Constitution and the protections it provides to every American. I believe each nominee much embrace a judicial philosophy that reflects mainstream American values, not narrow ideological interests. I believe a judicial nominee must respect the role and responsibilities of each branch of government. I look for a strong commitment and passion for the continued forward progress of civil rights protections.
Justice Keenan comes to this committee with an impressive amount of experience. She has served on each of the four levels of the Virginia State courts: General District Court, Circuit Court, Court of Appeals, and Supreme Court. She was admitted to the State Bar of Virginia in 1974. She first took the bench at the age of 29, and fittingly has served for a judge for the last 29 years. Before serving as a judge, she worked as an attorney in private practice and as a local prosecutor.
Justice Keenan has presiding over an impressive amount of cases. She presided over several thousand cases of to judgment as a judge of the General District Court of Fairfax County, Virginia, which includes misdemeanors and smaller civil cases. As a circuit court judge, she presided over 600 cases that proceeded to verdict or judgment, and handled a wide range of criminal and civil cases, including both jury trials and bench trials. Finally, Justice Kennan now serves on the Virginia Supreme Court, a position she has held since 1991. I understand that under Virginia law, Supreme Court Justices serve 12 year-terms, and then must seek reappointment by the state General Assembly. Justice Keenan was unanimously reappointed by the General Assembly.
If confirmed, Justice Keenan would be the first woman from Virginia to serve on the Fourth Circuit. I understand that Judge Keenan has already been breaking down barriers in Virginia, when she became the first female general district court judge, the first female circuit court judge, the first female judge on the Virginia Court of Appeals, and the only second female justice on the Virginia Supreme Court.
She received a unanimous rating of "well qualified" by the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, which is their highest rating. I look forward to her introduction by Senators Webb and Warner.
Our second nominee today is Laurie O. Robinson, to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.
By way of background, let me agree with Chairman Leahy that this Committee should move quickly to continue restoring the morale and integrity of the Department. I must say that I am disappointed by the pace of our confirmation for many of Attorney General Holder's deputies. Less than half of the current Assistant Attorneys General have been confirmed, leaving major policy-making functions in the DOJ vacant, such as tax, environment, and legal advice and policy. The Senate should vote on these nominees without further delay.
Ms. Jackson is Of Counsel at Morrison & Foerster, LLP in Washington, D.C., where she has worked since 2007. From 2005 to 2007, she was an Assistant Federal Public Defender in the District of Columbia. From 2003 to 2005, Ms. Jackson served as Assistant Special Counsel to the U.S. Sentencing Commission. For several years, Ms. Jackson was in private practice. She has previously served as a law clerk to the Judge Patti B. Saris, U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, Judge Bruce M. Selya, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer.
Ms. Jackson graduated with a BA from Harvard University and a JD from Harvard Law School. She is a resident of Bethesda, Maryland.
I will now turn to the Ranking Member for any comments he would care to make, and then we will turn to Senators Webb and Warner to introduce our first nominee.