Durbin Questions Nominees at Latest Judiciary Committee Judicial 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 Kevin Gafford Ritz, nominated to be United States Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit; Brian Edward Murphy, nominated to be United States District Judge for the District of Massachusetts; Rebecca L. Pennell, nominated to be United States District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington; and Jeannette A. Vargas, nominated to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York.

Durbin began by noting Mr. Ritz’s record of public service and the fact that the American Bar Association rated him unanimously “Well Qualified” to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit.

“At the outset, let me say, as I did before, that you have been found unanimously ‘Well Qualified’ by the American Bar Association after they have asked members of the Bar… about your performance throughout the course of your life and particularly as a U.S. Attorney,” said Durbin.  “I am going to enter into the record a letter which we received from the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association in which they say of your nomination, ‘at every turn throughout his nearly 20 years serving the Western District of Tennessee, community leaders and law enforcement leaders who know Mr. Ritz have come away deeply impressed at how thorough and principled Mr. Ritz has shown himself to be time and again.’”

Durbin then asked Mr. Ritz about his role in representing the government in United States v. Castleman.

“Mr. Ritz, I see that from 2011 to 2014, you represented the government in United States v. Castleman.  That case involved the question of whether someone convicted of a crime of domestic violence could possess a firearm under federal law.  Eventually, the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court, and a unanimous Court sided with you and the government.  Could you tell us more about your role in that litigation?”

Mr. Ritz responded that it was, “a really important case about the federal law that prohibits people from possessing firearms if they have a prior domestic violence conviction.  It is of course a very important tool, and has been an important tool, for federal prosecutors in our district and elsewhere, to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.”

Video of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Ritz in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Ritz in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions for Mr. Ritz in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Durbin then asked Judge Pennell about her role within the re-entry drug court teams while she was an attorney at the Federal Defenders of Eastern Washington and Idaho.

“Judge Pennell, there is a part of your life where you were dealing with drug re-entry court. I’ve seen those courts used successfully in Illinois, in Chicago, and in Cook County dealing with veterans and people with special disability situations,” Durbin said.  “What was your experience?”

Judge Pennell responded that, “Drug courts are exceedingly important for public safety. My experience with drug court was in the federal context where we had a re-entry court for individuals leaving federal prison… My understanding is that recidivism was reduced and amazingly, so many people ended up with full-time jobs at the end of the experience, and really being able to contribute to the community.  It was an important public safety result and an important result for our community in terms of getting people back into work.”

Durbin then asked Ms. Vargas about her experience as a prosecutor and Mr. Murphy about his work on criminal defense.

“As I look at your backgrounds, it’s interesting the contrast… Mr. Murphy seems to have dedicated a large part of his professional life to defense work.  Ms. Vargas, prosecuting,” Durbin said.  “The concern obviously from Members of the Committee, which has been expressed over and over again, is can you see the other side of the story?  Can you treat the prosecutor, in your case Mr. Murphy, with the same level of respect and professional courtesy that you would want for yourself?  Ms. Vargas, can you put yourself in the shoes of the defendant who is fighting for their rights and wondering if you, as a judge, are going to be fair in your verdict?”

Mr. Murphy responded that, “I believe I can switch from the role of an advocate to the role of a neutral arbiter successfully… I have tried many cases to a verdict in front of a jury and understanding how the judge in each of those cases provides a forum that allows both advocates to present their case fairly and fully such that they feel like their side of the house has been heard completely by the time the case is decided by the finder of fact…[It] is something I would seek to emulate and I think I can make that transition from being an advocate to being a neutral arbiter.”

Ms. Vargas responded that, “I have litigated on both sides frequently both as plaintiff attorney and defense counsel. That has been a large part of my experience and has given me a breath of experience and a depth of understanding of what it means to be both a plaintiff’s counsel, a prosecutor, as well as on the defense side… If I were so lucky to be confirmed, I would look forward to taking on a role where fidelity to the rule of law would be my paramount consideration.”

Video of Durbin’s questions for the District Court nominees in Committee is available here.

Audio of Durbin’s questions for the District Court nominees in Committee is available here.

Footage of Durbin’s questions for the District Court nominees in Committee is available here for TV Stations.

Today’s hearing continues the Committee’s work filling judicial and executive vacancies with highly qualified, diverse candidates who help ensure the fair and impartial administration of the American justicesystem.  Under the leadership of Chair Durbin, the Senate has confirmed 193 judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench during the Biden administration.  Nine lifetime judges – including two circuit court nominees and seven district court nominees – are eligible for a vote on the Senate floor.