GOP Criticism of Defender Judicial Picks Rebutted by Law Groups

President Joe Biden’s judicial candidates with a public defense background will be “selected for additional criticism” during the confirmation process, a coalition of more than 50 legal groups, including several state criminal defense organizations, said in a letter to the chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The letter, sent Wednesday, follows questions from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee as to whether public defenders and defense lawyers would be able to handle the more general acts of a federal court or be fair.

“We reject any suggestion that public defenders and criminal defense lawyers are less well prepared for the bank than lawyers with a public prosecutor’s or civil law background,” the letter said.

The letter was sent to Justice Chairman Richard Durbin, D-Ill. And Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, senior Republican on the committee. Signatories include Demand Justice, FAMM, Black Public Defender Association, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and The Sentencing Project.

Biden has made diversity a priority in his judge appointments, including professional diversity. In order to achieve this, many of his previous judge candidates have gained experience as public defenders.

According to a 2020 study by the Center for American Progress, only 1% of district court judges have spent the majority of their careers as public defenders or in a legal aid process.

Prosecutors and attorneys who focus on civil litigation – common background experience for federal judges – do not attract the same skepticism as defense lawyers, the groups wrote in the letter.

The Republicans’ questions would also run counter to the bipartisan agreement on efforts to overhaul the criminal justice system, they wrote.

Republicans have the defense experience as something to be concerned about.

Speaking at a markup in June, Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said nominees with a background primarily in criminal defense “may not be up to the job of serving as general judges” on committee markup.

And at a confirmation hearing in June, Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) Interviewed a New York Federal Appeals Court nominee on civil proceedings.

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