WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate on Monday narrowly confirmed one of President Barack Obama's nominees to be a federal judge in Maryland, overcoming opposition from some conservatives who felt nominee Paula Xinis was too tough on law enforcement in her career as a lawyer and assistant federal public defender.
Senators confirmed Xinis by a 53-34 vote, shortly after Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions noted on the floor that her law firm had represented the family of Freddie Gray, who died last year after his neck was broken while he was handcuffed and shackled in the back of a Baltimore police van. Gray's death prompted riots in Baltimore, and his case has been frequently mentioned in the ongoing national conversation about police brutality.
The confirmation fills a vacancy in the Maryland district that the courts have declared a "judicial emergency" because of the number of cases pending there. The seat has been vacant since October 2014, and Obama nominated Xinis in March 2015.
Backed by her state's two Democratic senators, Xinis won support from Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. But other Republicans noted her record as an examiner for the Office of Police Complaints in Washington from 2006 to 2011.
"She has built a career in dealing with lawsuits against police and police departments and dealing with complaints against the police," Sessions said. He said the frequency with which she ruled against the police made him uneasy.
Other Republicans shared Sessions' concerns. North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis said he voted against Xinis after law enforcement groups contacted his office.
Xinis's confirmation could be among the last this year. In recent decades, the Senate has slowed — and gradually stopped — its approval of judges nominated by a president of the opposing party in the later months of a president's final year in office.
Forty-four of Obama's nominees to district courts and seven to the appeals court remain in limbo, as does the president's choice of Judge Merrick Garland for the vacancy created by Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's death in February. Republicans say the next president should choose the high court nominee.
Democrats have complained that Republicans have confirmed too few nominees in the last year. Xinis was the 18th federal judge the chamber has approved since the GOP took control of the Senate in January 2015.
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