Three judicial nominees to federal courts in Washington, D.C., faced little opposition when they appeared for their confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. Mostly, they met with friendly questions from a few Democratic senators.
Beryl Howell, a member of the U.S. Sentencing Commission, and Robert Wilkins, a partner at Venable, are nominees for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Kathleen O'Malley, a federal district judge in Ohio, is a nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Only Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Al Franken, D-Minn., were there to ask questions of Howell and Wilkins. O'Malley's turn in the spotlight was just slightly livelier, with Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., questioning her about her views on the death penalty -- a standard question for Sessions, although the Federal Circuit hears no capital punishment cases. Sessions said he would submit written questions to Howell and Wilkins.
Whitehouse adjourned the hearing after less than an hour.
Though even noncontroversial nominees have stalled in the full Senate, the hearing is a good sign for President Barack Obama as he tries to fill four vacancies on Washington's federal trial court. The court is notable for a docket stocked with Guantanamo Bay detainee cases and issues of federal regulation.
The hearing room was full of family and friends supporting Howell, Wilkins and O'Malley. Among those in attendance was U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, who would be a colleague of Howell and Wilkins if they were confirmed.
Howell was in especially friendly territory as a former staff lawyer for Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., from 1993 to 2003. She worked at Stroz Friedberg, a Washington litigation consulting firm, from 2003 to 2009, and she's been a part-time member of the sentencing commission since 2004.
Unlike three other nominees for Washington's district court, including Wilkins, Howell did not receive an initial recommendation from Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C. Instead, Leahy recommended Howell to the White House. In an interview, Norton said she didn't mind Leahy stepping in. "He's the chairman of the committee and a very good friend," she said. She's supporting Howell.
O'Malley has been a federal judge in the Northern District of Ohio since 1994. She was previously an Ohio assistant attorney general and a partner in the Cleveland office of Columbus, Ohio-based Porter Wright Morris & Arthur. She has frequently spoken about and taught intellectual property law, which is a key part of the Federal Circuit's jurisdiction.