The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday approved U.S. Magistrate Judge Patty Shwartz for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Shwartz made it through on an 11-7 vote. She had been cleared by the committee last March, but her nomination had to be restarted after the Senate’s 2011-12 session ended without a confirmation vote.
Shwartz has been waiting nearly 15 months since the White House originally nominated her in October 2011 to fill the seat left open the previous June, when Third Circuit Judge Maryanne Trump Barry took senior status.
Her first hurdle was getting the endorsement of the New Jersey senatorial contingent. Though Sen. Frank Lautenberg signed off immediately, Sen. Robert Menendez withheld his "blue slip" — the sign-off slip that allows a nomination to go forward for consideration.
Press reports surfaced in early January 2012 that Menendez was thwarting Shwartz’s nomination because of a personal vendetta against Assistant U.S. Attorney James Nobile, with whom Shwartz has had a long-term romantic relationship dating back to her days as federal prosecutor.
In 2006, Nobile had supervised an investigation into whether an antipoverty agency agreed to lease a building owned by Menendez in exchange for his promise of continued funding — an investigation some Democrats charged was politically motivated by Republican U.S. Attorney Chris Christie in an election year for Menendez.
Menendez vehemently denied the reports and said his reluctance about Shwartz instead came from doubts about her legal acumen. Menendez, a lawyer, said he had met with Shwartz in August 2011 in connection with a U.S. District Court vacancy and was dissatisfied with her responses to legal questions.
Menendez pointed specifically to her understanding of executive branch powers and her knowledge of corporations’ constitutional rights, citing the Supreme Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
Menendez relented, and on Jan. 13, 2012, after meeting with Shwartz a second time, announced he would sign off on her nomination.
She garnered the Senate Judiciary Committee’s approval last March 8 in a 10-6 vote with two abstentions.
Shwartz has been a magistrate judge since 2003. Before that, she was with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Newark as deputy chief of the Criminal Division from 1995 to 1999, chief of the Criminal Division from 1999 to 2001, executive assistant U.S. attorney from 2001 to 2002, and again Criminal Division chief from 2002 to 2003. She practiced briefly at Philadelphia’s Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz.
— With reporting by David Gialanella, New Jersey Law Journal