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Biden pick Florence Pan confirmed as first Asian American woman on D.C. federal court

Pan was first nominated to the federal court in 2016 by Democratic President Barack Obama.
Image: Florence Pan
Florence Pan speaks to judicial nominees during a Senate Judiciary Hearing on Capitol Hill, on July 14, 2021.Amanda Andrade-Rhoades / AP file

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed Florence Pan as the first Asian American woman to serve as a federal district court judge in Washington, D.C., filling a seat vacated by now-U.S. Circuit Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was promoted to the D.C. Circuit.

The 68-30 vote came shortly after the U.S. Senate Judiciary voted to advance five of President Joe Biden’s other judicial picks, including Toby Heytens, the Virginia state solicitor general nominated to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Pan, a former federal prosecutor who has served judge on the D.C. Superior Court since 2009, was first nominated to the federal court in 2016 by Democratic President Barack Obama.

But despite a favorable vote from the then-Republican controlled Judiciary Committee, she was never confirmed, and when Republican President Donald Trump took office, he nominated Dabney Freidrich to fill the seat she had been up for.

Biden in March announced he would renominate Pan to fill the seat that would be vacated once Jackson won Senate approval to replace Attorney General Merrick Garland on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which she did in June.

Jackson, who is Black, has been seen as a potential nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court should a vacancy emerge. The nomination of Pan furthered Biden’s overall promise to bring greater diversity to the federal judiciary.

“The historic nature of Judge Pan’s nomination will help build a federal bench that reflects full diversity,” U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

She is the 14th of Biden’s 43 judicial nominees to win approval, amid a rush by Democrats to shape the judiciary and counter the influence of Trump’s near-record 234 appointments while they maintain their narrow control of the chamber.

The Judiciary Committee voted 14-8 to advance Heytens‘ nomination, with three Republican senators joining with Democrats to support him. As Virginia’s top appellate lawyer, he defended pandemic-related emergency orders and the state’s now-completed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee in Richmond.

A former law clerk to the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Heytens earlier served at the Justice Department’s solicitor general’s office from 2007 to 2010 and has argued 10 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, voted for Heytens, saying he had a history of working with people he probably disagrees with and was likely the “best pick we could expect from this administration.”

“I think Mr. Heytens will have a moderating effect on the 4th Circuit,” he said.

Four district court nominees also advanced out of the committee, Sarala Vidya Nagala and Omar Williams to serve in Connecticut, and Patricia Tolliver Giles and Michael Nachmanoff to serve in the Eastern District of Virginia.

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