Nathan, NY judicial nominee, narrowly passes Senate

Reuters News

10/13/2011 6:24:12 PM - Reuters News

By Carlyn Kolker

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A nominee for the federal court in New York whom Republicans had criticized for lack of courtroom experience and liberal views, was confirmed on Thursday by the Senate in a narrow, party-line vote.

Alison Nathan, a lawyer for the New York solicitor general's office, was confirmed by a final vote of 48 to 44, one of the closest votes for any of President Obama's district court nominees.

The Senate also voted to confirm two other judicial nominees on Thursday: Katherine Forrest to the bench in the Southern District of New York, and Susan Hickey to a federal trial court in Arkansas.

Forrest, a Justice Department lawyer specializing in antitrust law and a former partner at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, was confirmed by a voice vote, meaning no official tally was taken. Hickey, a state court judge in Arkansas since 2010, was confirmed by a vote of 83 to 8.

Nathan and Hickey had both faced criticism in the judiciary committee. Ranking committee Republican leader Charles Grassley criticized the White House for nominating judicial candidates with "limited experience."

Nathan in particular faced harsh questioning during her judiciary committee hearing over her views on the death penalty, gun rights and judicial precedents.

Nevertheless both nominees were approved by the judiciary committee and garnered votes from both Democrats and Republicans, in keeping with Senate practice of allowing most nominees to face consideration by the full chamber.

The White House did not comment on the closeness of the Nathan vote.

Senator Charles Schumer, the New York Democrat who recommended Nathan to the White House, hailed her confirmation, adding that she is the first openly gay woman to go through the judicial confirmation process.

Curt Levey, executive director of the conservative-leaning Committee for Justice, said he wasn't aware of any organized effort by Republicans to block Nathan's nomination, as they had done with other Obama judicial nominees who faced close votes.

"At the end of the day, I've never favored trying to stop every controversial nominee," said Levey. "But if you do nominate people who are borderline, there is going to be a cost, even if they do get confirmed. I think that's what happened here."

(Reporting by Carlyn Kolker; Editing by Jerry Norton)