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U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing On Nomination Of Vermont Supreme Court Justice To Second Circuit Court Of Appeals

This week the U.S. Senate Judiciary committee held a hearing on nominations to U.S Circuit Courts. One of the nominees is a current Vermont Supreme Court justice, who would be the first openly gay woman to serve as a judge on a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Vermont Supreme Court Justice Beth Robinson was nominated by President Biden to serve as a judge on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. She would replace the late Judge Peter Hall.

Robinson was co-council in Baker vs. the state of Vermont, which led to the enactment of the first civil union law in the country. She then founded the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force to advocate for the state’s marriage equality law, enacted in 2009.

In 2011 then-Governor Peter Shumlin nominated Robinson to serve as a justice on the Vermont Supreme Court. She was eventually confirmed.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy submitted Robinson’s name to President Biden for nomination to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The Democrat told members of the Judiciary Committee that Justice Robinson has an unimpeachable decades-long track record and brilliant legal mind.

“She’s been hailed as a tireless champion for equal rights and equal justice in the mold of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg," Leahy said. "But these are not the primary reason that Beth Robinson is sitting before us today. Instead it is Beth’s track record as a Vermont Supreme Court justice. Her fairness, impartiality and loyalty to the rule of law that make her the best possible nominee for this Second Circuit position.”

Most questions to Justice Robinson focused on how she has been able to disengage her past advocacy career from her current judicial work. Connecticut Democrat Richard Blumenthal noted she has participated in nearly 1,800 decisions during her tenure on the Vermont Supreme Court and asked how her past experience as a litigator and advocate shaped those decisions.

"Obviously you have to separate advocacy from judging. How do you do that but drawing on one to benefit the other?”

Robinson answered, “I think you can’t be a successful litigator without being well steeped in the law and without being able to do good legal analysis. I think that practicing as a litigator is the right training ground for somebody to become a judge. I was motivated as an advocate because I was passionate about the clients I represented and the causes that I advocated for. I am as a judge passionately committed to the rule of law and my duty to uphold it from the bench.”

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee went back three decades to find an objectionable case. Texas Senator Ted Cruz pressed Robinson on a religious rights lawsuit early in her career.

“I am concerned about your record both as an advocate and as a justice that it demonstrates a marked hostility towards religious liberty. When you were in private practice you wrote a brief in favor of forcing the Baker family, a Catholic family that owned a print shop, to print membership cards for a pro-abortion activist group.”

Robinson recalled, “Just to put that case in context, and I don’t have all the details in my mind because it was 30 years ago, it was my very first year of practicing law in Vermont. The claim by my client was that she had been subject to discrimination on the basis of her religious conviction. In particular she had asked to print cards for Vermont Catholics for Free Choice. Her contention was that the Bakers said we won’t print these cards because we don’t think Catholics can be for choice.”

According to Senator Leahy’s office this week’s hearing was the first step in the confirmation process. It next is listed on the Judiciary Committee’s voting roster, which has not yet been set.

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