Federal judge’s appointment reflects her abilities, Reid’s clout

Two stories intermingled Tuesday during an investiture ceremony in a Las Vegas federal courtroom.

One was the story of Gloria Navarro, the only daughter of Cuban immigrants who fled Castro’s Cuba in 1962, eventually settling in Las Vegas, where she was born. She grew up to become the first Hispanic woman on the federal bench in Nevada.

The other was the story of Harry Reid, and how the power he wields in the U.S. Senate as majority leader won Navarro a 98-0 confirmation by a contentious Senate in nine months, which for judicial nominees is lightning speed.

Navarro’s investiture was a time to praise her abilities, but several federal judges who spoke made sure to recognize Reid’s ability as well, his ability to get his judicial appointee approved while so many languish in the Senate.

The underlying message was a familiar theme for Reid’s campaign: Can Sharron Angle do this? (Of course, there would have to be a Republican in the White House and she would have to be the ranking Republican from Nevada before she could even try.)

Navarro, 43, is not the first woman or minority to win a lifetime appointment to the federal bench in Nevada. Johnnie Rawlinson, a black woman, won those honors in 1997, courtesy of Reid. In 2000, Rawlinson joined the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, again at Reid’s suggestion. At that time Nevada’s federal court resumed it’s all male, all pale status.

Another Reid appointee, Brian Sandoval, the first Hispanic, joined the bench in 2005 and left it last year to run for governor, so the bench returned to its white-men-only status.

For 10 years, although there are women magistrates and bankruptcy judges, there were no female U.S. District Court judges in Nevada.

“It’s about time there’s a little estrogen on the court,” one woman said at Navarro’s formal swearing-in.

Out of 10 federal district judges, there now is one woman.

“Judges are the first line to ensure fairness,” Reid said, describing Navarro as “a woman of great humility.”

State District Judge Valorie Vega said the word that best described Navarro was “balance” because she balanced her career, her family (she and husband Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Rutledge have three sons) and community service.

“She has the intellect, moral ethics and work ethics to do a great job on the federal bench,” Vega said.

Navarro’s legal career began in 1994 and included stints with the federal and state public defender offices, private practice and the Clark County district attorney.

U.S. District Judge Philip Pro hired Navarro nearly 20 years ago as a legal extern in his office when she was a law student at Arizona State University. “Senator Reid talked about her humility and Judge Vega talked about her balance and hard work. Those are all attributes I know she has.”

Pro went to congratulate her Tuesday morning, “She was already on the bench hearing cases at 8 a.m.” (Navarro actually was sworn in and began work May 26.)

Chief Judge Roger Hunt said, “It’s a weighty responsibility to provide justice fairly and without bias.” Then he gave her the ceremonial oath where she pledged to do exactly that.

At a time when immigration is a hot-button issue, Navarro’s story as the child of Cuban immigrants is compelling and one that should earn some goodwill for Reid in the Hispanic community.

The spotlight is on U.S. District Judge Gloria Navarro, who now has to live up to the praise that was heaped upon her as she defends the Constitution and metes out justice. She will want to prove wrong those who grumble there were better men for the job, or even better women.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at Jane@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/morrison.

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