National Latino leaders are pushing the Senate to quickly confirm voting rights expert Myrna Pérez as a justice for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. If confirmed, she would be the only Latina on the bench of that federal appeals court and the first since Sonia Sotomayor moved from it to the U.S. Supreme Court.
President Joe Biden nominated Perez last week for the appeals court, which serves New York, Connecticut and Vermont.
Pérez is the former director of voting rights and elections programs at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has been critical of voter ID laws and laws shortening time for early voting, as well as other measures restricting voting.
“Though it has taken too many years to get another Latina on the very important 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, Myrna Pérez is a worthy successor to Justice Sonia Sotomayor,” said Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
The organization is part of a coalition of groups, Latinos for a Fair Judiciary, which has been pushing for more Latino judges.
Democrats have spent weeks pressing for passage of a sweeping election overhaul bill that has been met with stiff opposition from Republican senators. A vote scheduled for Tuesday appeared to have slim chances of passing.
Meanwhile, Republican state lawmakers and governors in some states have pushed voting restrictions, leading to political battles over the issue.
In a statement on the Senate floor last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called her one of the nation’s foremost experts on elections and voting rights.
“The cupboards of the federal judiciary have long been stocked with former prosecutors and corporate lawyers. It’s about time that civil rights attorneys, voting rights attorneys and federal defenders … join the ranks,” he said.
Pérez is one of a handful of Latinos whom Biden has nominated to the federal bench after Latino groups criticized his first slate of nominees, which included one Latina, Regina Rodriguez, who has since been confirmed to serve on the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
As of May 2020, Latinos were 6 percent of appeals judges and 7 percent of district judges, according to the Minority Corporate Counsel Association.
“This is an important step from the Biden administration to begin to correct the imbalance of federal judgeships and truly diversify the federal bench,” Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, said. “More needs to be done, clearly."
Pérez earned her bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and her law degree from Columbia University. She is a first-generation college student, according to Latinos for a Fair Judiciary.
She clerked for Judge Anita Brody of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for Judge Julio Fuentes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.
Her father was a radio communications consultant helping public safety agencies integrate their radio systems, and her mother worked as a customer service manager for the U.S. Postal Service, according to her 2007 New York Times wedding announcement.
Other Latinos or Hispanics nominated by Biden and awaiting confirmation are Tovah Calderon for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals and Judge Kenia Seoane López for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.
Also nominated were Judge Gustavo Gelpí for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit, and Judge David Estudillo for U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington.CORRECTION (June 24, 2021, 1:39 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the D.C. Court of Appeal's history of Hispanic judges. The court has had a Hispanic judge; if confirmed, Tovah Calderon would not be the first.