Durbin Questions Judicial Nominees at Latest Judicial Committee Nominations Hearing

WASHINGTON – During today’s Senate Judiciary Committee nominations hearing, U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, questioned Seth Aframe, nominated to be United States Circuit Judge for the First Circuit Court of Appeals; Sarah Russell, nominated to be United States District Judge for the District of Connecticut; and Judge Edward Kiel, nominated to be United States District Judge for the District of New Jersey.

Durbin began by asking Mr. Aframe about his experience prosecuting sex crimes, specifically those victimizing children. Mr. Aframe served as the prosecutor in a case involving rape and child sexual abuse material (CSAM, called “child pornography” in federal law). Durbin asked Mr. Aframe about his efforts to help the family cope with the traumatic aftermath of the crime and trial. 

“The reason I raise this case is because of a note that you’ve included in describing the case. You said an important part of the trial preparation was helping the victim's parents deal with feelings of guilt at allowing the defendant access to their daughter. The reason I raise that is that this has been an issue which we have considered in this committee, something known as CSAM. It is an outrageous situation, horrible, and has impacts on children which go far beyond the obvious…  We passed a bill out of this committee unanimously to deal with the people in Big Tech and their response to try to protect our children,” Durbin said.  “Even the most conscientious parent cannot be sure that they are protecting their child.  Would you comment on that particular note that you made in that description of the case?”

Mr. Aframe spoke about the importance of properly prosecuting the defendant as well as offering emotional support to the family, allowing them to move forward with their lives after the defendant was sentenced.  

In May, Durbin’s Strengthening Transparency and Obligations toProtect Children Suffering from Abuse and Mistreatment Act of 2023 (STOP CSAM Act) was unanimously voted out of Committee.  The legislation cracks down on the proliferation of child sexual abuse material online by, among other things, creating a civil remedy for victims harmed when Big Tech promotes or facilitates online child sexual exploitation; requiring Big Tech to submit annual reports about their efforts to protect children from sexual exploitation; and empowering victims by making it easier for them to ask tech companies to remove child sexual abuse material and related imagery from their platforms and by creating an administrative penalty for the failure to comply with a removal request.

Video of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Aframe is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Aframe is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Aframe is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin then asked Ms. Russell about how she would approach a new role as a judge after having worked as a public defender and as an academic examining the criminal justice system.  

“I consider this panel, like most of the others, virtually all of them, well-qualified people.  The obvious questions which will be asked are related to your temperament, your knowledge of the law, and any prejudice you bring to this aspiration,” Durbin said.  “You, of course, having written extensively on sentencing and been engaged in public defense, may raise some questions among some panelists.  Would you like to address that initially?”

In her response, Ms. Russell referenced her time serving as a law clerk for Judge Michael B. Mukasey in the Southern District of New York and Judge Chester Straub on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, where she observed how judges should approach cases with an open mind and reverence forimpartiality.  She also spoke about her experience as an academic, working with students to represent a range of clients.  Ms. Russell added that her work as a policy advisor, public defender, counsel to the Federal Grievance Committee for the District of Connecticut, and her time on the Connecticut Supreme Court’s Committee on Judicial Ethics has led her to have a deep understanding of the many aspects of law, including the role of a judge in the courtroom.

Durbin then asked Judge Kiel to reflect on what led him to his career in the judicial branch and his family’s path to becoming naturalized citizens in the U.S.

“Judge Kiel, what an amazing story you have in your family – a family of immigrants who came with nothing and made such a great life here in this country.  Please share with us any thoughts you have, as your aspiration to this judgeship is underway,” said Durbin.

Judge Kiel replied that his parents’ naturalization certificates hang in the entrance to his chambers “as a constant reminder of what an incredible country that we live in and the opportunities that we have.”  Judge Kiel’s parents were North Korean refugees who fled to South Korea during the Korean War.  Born in Daegu, South Korea, Judge Kiel moved to New Jersey after his father attended seminary school in the U.S.    

Durbin then shared his mother’s immigration story: “My mother was an immigrant, and her naturalization certificate is behind my desk.”

Video of Durbin’s questions for Ms. Russell and Judge Kiel is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions for Ms. Russell and Judge Kiel is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions for Ms. Russell and Judge Kiel is available here for TV Stations.