Florence Pan testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during her confirmation hearing to become a judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. July 13, 2016. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM)
D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan, a nominee for the city’s federal district court, fielded questions from the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about her judicial philosophy, her experience as a prosecutor and her decision to grant pretrial release to a suspect in a police shooting.
Law enforcement officials were critical of Pan’s decision to release a defendant pending trial who was charged with firing at police officers. Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, asked Pan to explain the ruling.
Pan said she applied D.C. bail law, which favors pretrial release. She said that the defendant’s “circumstances had changed dramatically” by the time his lawyers asked for his release: He’d spent months in jail without incident, was taking medication that altered his behavior and was injured in the shootout, leaving him incapacitated.
“I made the best call that I could at the time,” Pan said.
It was the only question directly critical of Pan’s record on the bench.
Pan has been a Superior Court judge since 2009. She previously served as a federal prosecutor. After earning her law degree from Stanford Law School, she clerked for former U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey in New York, who attended Wednesday’s hearing.
Pan said that if confirmed, she would bring experience with case management, presiding over trials and writing substantive legal opinions. As a former prosecutor, she said that she had broad experience with different types of cases and practicing in federal court.
Senator Thom Tillis, R-North Carolina, asked what Pan thought about a judicial philosophy that went “beyond the letter” of the Constitution and legal precedents. Pan said she thought that would be inappropriate, and that she would not agree with a philosophy that yielded to “social pressures.”
In what appeared to be a nod to the recent controversy over Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s remarks about presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Tillis ended the hearing by asking if there was ever a time when a judge “should take outward political positions, on campaigns and candidates?” Pan said no.
Pan, who is Chinese-American, would be the first Asian Pacific American woman to serve on the D.C. federal bench. She was one of three nominees who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday. The committee also heard from U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh of the Northern District of California, nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and U.S. District Judge Danny Reeves of the Eastern District of Kentucky, nominated to the U.S. Sentencing Commission.
Superior Court Judge Todd Edelman was nominated along with Pan in April to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. No hearing has been scheduled on his nomination.
Jin Hwang, president of the the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association said in a statement that the organization was “encouraged by the fact that today’s hearing included two Asian Pacific American women nominees, strengthening diversity on the federal bench.” Koh, who currently sits in San Jose, is Korean-American.