Federal judge nominees face questions over juror race issue

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At Wednesday’s U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing for the five nominees to the federal district bench, including the nominees for the Northern and Southern Indiana district courts, the table of potential judges was more crowded than the dais where the senators usually sit.

Only three senators attended the hearing that lasted just over 30 minutes.

Holly Brady, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, and James Patrick Hanlon, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, were among those who testified.

The session became active when Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, got into a little back-and-forth with Brady about Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). However, the hearing had none of the fireworks that have marked the committee’s questioning of other past nominees, particularly those for the appellate judgeships.

Both Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Indiana, and Todd Young, R-Indiana, introduced Brady and Hanlon to the committee. Also, they each emphasized to the committee that the Southern Indiana District Court is facing a judicial emergency, handling one of the highest weighted caseloads of any district court in the nation.

Donnelly told the committee that Southern Indiana District Court Chief Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson was attending the hearing.

Both Indiana Senators praised Brady and Hanlon as being qualified to be federal judges.

“In speaking with both Holly and J.P., it was clear they’re both skilled attorneys who share a passion for public service and have deep ties to the state and their communities,” Donnelly said. “… I believe Holly and J.P. are qualified attorneys who are committed to ensuring the administration of justice in Indiana’s district courts.”

Young said, “These two individuals have earned excellent reputations in the legal community. Both are fair, impartial and highly regarded attorneys with the right temperament to serve on Indiana’s district courts.”

Kennedy posed questions about Batson to Hanlon and Brady. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that removing a potential juror from the jury pool because of race violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Kennedy asked Brady if a Batson challenge would be upheld if the opposing counsel said the juror was not struck because she was African-American but because she was not smart enough to understand the case. Brady declined to answer, saying it would be inappropriate for her to comment on a hypothetical for facts that may come before her as a judge.

“Do you have an opinion on racial discrimination,” Kennedy asked.

“I think it’s wrong,” Brady replied.

“OK. You don’t think you’re going to have cases that involve racial discrimination,” Kennedy continued.

“I’m certain I will,” Brady said.

“So why can you comment on those but not on what’s sufficient to overrule a Batson challenge?” Kennedy asked.

When Brady began to explain what providing a response would require her to do, Kennedy interrupted, “You’re not going to answer, are you?”

“I think that would be inappropriate under the judicial canons for me to do so,” she replied.

Then Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, picked up the line of questioning. He asked Brady what she would do if a juror was struck for a reason that seemed to be a pretext for racial discrimination.

“I would inquire further of counsel in an effort to determine if, in fact, it was a pretext or if it was the actual reason,” Brady said.

“You’re experienced in the courtroom,” Blumenthal responded. “What kinds of questions would you ask?”

“I guess I would have to know exactly what the hypothetical is,” Brady replied. “I would have to understand exactly what the basis for striking the juror is.”

“And then would you deny the motion to strike if you concluded that the reason was simply a pretext,” Blumenthal inquired.

“If I thought that the reason was racially motived, I would deny the strike,” Brady said.


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