WASHINGTON — Nevada federal judge nominee Richard Boulware advanced in the U.S. Senate on Thursday despite surprise opposition from Republicans who questioned his experience and his ability to become impartial.
Boulware’s appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee at a March 12 confirmation hearing was uneventful as he was asked only one friendly question. The 45-year old federal public defender from Las Vegas was nominated by President Barack Obama to become a U.S. District Court judge in the state.
But when the committee met Thursday to vote on pending nominees, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded a rollcall vote on Boulware and all but one Republican — Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah — voted against him.
Democrats who control the Senate prevailed on the committee vote, 11-7, sending Boulware’s nomination to the Senate floor for a confirmation vote expected to take place in May or June. Boulware’s sponsor is Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, and he also is being supported by Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller.
Despite the opposition, “I’m still convinced (Boulware) is going to be a federal judge and I have no doubt he will be fine in the long run,” Heller said. Reid’s office said in a statement that he “believes Mr. Boulware is highly qualified and looks forward to his confirmation.”
Several analysts who follow Senate judicial politics said Boulware is expected to win final confirmation over the Republican objections.
“The nominee is not in trouble,” said Glenn Sugameli, a public interest attorney who monitors judicial confirmations.
Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said he was voting against Boulware “reluctantly,” and there were several factors that generated his opposition.
Grassley noted in a statement that Boulware received a mixed rating from the 15-member American Bar Association subcommittee that evaluates federal judge nominees. The Nevadan received a rating of “substantial majority qualified, minority not qualified.” The ABA does not detail the vote, but says “substantial majority” means between 10 and 13 members.
The Iowa senator also said Boulware “has only been practicing law since 2002, if you include his clerkship, and as a public defender 99 percent of his practice has been in criminal law. He has no experience in civil matters.”
“Finally, over the course of his career, he has taken very aggressive policy positions, on a number of different issues, in testimony before the Nevada Legislature,” Grassley said. “If it weren’t for Mr. Boulware’s relative lack of experience, it would be easier to give him the benefit of the doubt. But when I consider the entirety of his record, it’s with reluctance that I’ll vote no.”
Boulware served as a federal public defender in Nevada and New York since 2003 and has been active in community organizations. From 2008 to 2013 he was an officer in the Las Vegas branch of the NAACP.
During his NAACP tenure he represented the group on 14 occasions before the Legislature, discussing bills dealing with voting rights, solitary confinement, genetic markers, cameras in police cars, redistricting and racial profiling among other issues.
Grassley spokeswoman Beth Levine said the Iowa senator was most concerned about Boulware’s experience. But, she said, given the nominee’s “frequent and forceful testimony” in Carson City, “Senator Grassley is unconvinced that Mr. Boulware can go from advocacy to impartial jurist.
“If he’s confirmed, Senator Grassley hopes he’s proven wrong,” Levine said.
Sugameli, a senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife and head of the group’s judicial monitoring project, said Boulware could have been questioned at his confirmation hearing but wasn’t.
“Grassley is shamelessly and unjustifiably blindsiding the nominee by relying on vague, alleged concerns that Grassley could have raised at the hearing when the nominee would have had a chance to explain,” he said.
Contact Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @STetreaultDC.