WASHINGTON — A Clark County judge’s 2008 statement on gun rights has thrown a sudden curve into her nomination to become a federal judge in Nevada.
Filling out an election-year survey, District Judge Elissa Cadish told a conservative citizens group in Las Vegas she believed “reasonable restrictions may be imposed on gun ownership in the interest of public safety.”
Asked whether she believed individuals have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms, Cadish wrote: “I do not believe that there is this constitutional right.” She added: “Of course, I will enforce the laws as they exist as a judge.”
Cadish recently moved to clarify the comments, saying she was not speaking for herself but rather they reflected the unsettled law on gun rights in May 2008 before the Supreme Court issued rulings on the Second Amendment.
But the documents that surfaced Thursday in Las Vegas complicated efforts by the Obama administration and Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., to place Cadish on the federal bench.
They also appeared to shed light on Sen. Dean Heller’s opposition to Cadish, and his move to block the Senate Judiciary Committee from convening a hearing on her confirmation.
Heller, R-Nev., confirmed he was opposing Cadish but declined Thursday to specify a reason and didn’t comment on the questionnaire .
Cadish declined to comment through a county court employee.
Reid is sticking with Cadish, spokeswoman Kristen Orthman said. After he learned of the questionnaire, he asked her to clarify the gun rights statement and was satisfied with her answer.
“By all accounts, Cadish is one of the most highly respected jurists in the state of Nevada and supremely qualified to serve as Nevada’s next U.S. District Court judge,” Reid said in a statement Thursday.
He urged Heller to change his mind on Cadish, saying it could take months to find another nominee to fill a federal court vacancy that has been declared a “judicial emergency” by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts.
In a March 22 letter to Reid, Cadish said she was not expressing her own view when she filled out a survey on May 8, 2008, for Citizens for Responsible Government. Besides gun rights, the questionnaire distributed to all judicial candidates sought views on parents’ rights, criminal recidivism, eminent domain and “protecting the life of the preborn, the handicapped and the elderly.”
Appointed to the bench in Clark County a year earlier, Cadish was running for judicial election and won a six-year term that November.
“I want to assure you that I was not giving my personal opinion on this question,” Cadish said in the letter released by Reid’s office on Thursday evening. “Rather this response was based on my understanding of the state of federal law at the time.”
A month later, in June 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller ruled the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess firearms. In the 2010 McDonald v. Chicago case, the court expanded the concept beyond federal enclaves such as the District of Columbia and ruled the same protections apply to the states.
“If asked the same question today, I would say I believe there is a constitutional right for individuals to keep and bear arms, and I would make clear that I would faithfully apply the binding precedent on this issue,” Cadish told Reid, calling them “important Second Amendment rights.”
According to Capitol Hill sources, Republican staffers on the Senate Judiciary Committee came across the 2008 questionnaire when they were researching Cadish and reviewing her answers to a committee survey.
The GOP staff took the matter to Heller, who took it to Reid. The Senate majority leader then asked Cadish to explain.
Reid said Cadish’s nomination “cannot proceed without Sen. Heller’s support, and starting this process over with a new nominee is likely to leave this vacancy open for many more months.”
“Nevadans will be left with a crippled court system we cannot afford,” Reid said in a statement. “I very much hope Sen. Heller reconsiders his decision.”
Reid, as senior lawmaker from the president’s party, selected Cadish and recommended her to the president to fill a vacancy created when U.S. District Judge Philip Pro took senior status, which comes with a reduced caseload.
The Senate on Wednesday confirmed Reno attorney Miranda Du to replace U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt, who took senior status in May. Heller voted for Du, who was approved 59-39.
The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts had declared the two Nevada vacancies as “judicial emergencies,” and more openings are expected in the coming year as three other veteran judges on the seven-judge Nevada bench become eligible to take senior status.
In advance of potential confirmation hearings, Cadish was rated “unanimously qualified” for the federal court by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.
In an evaluation the Las Vegas Review-Journal conducts each year of local judges, 88 percent of lawyers who responded in a 2011 survey said Cadish should be retained.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.Cadish’s letter to Harry Reid