Despite vocal objections from Sen. Charles Grassley, the Senate Judiciary Committee last week advanced Patty Shwartz’s nomination to the 3rd Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals and moved her to consideration by the full Senate.
The panel approved the federal magistrate judge by a 10-6 vote and sent her nomination to the full Senate for consideration.
In a prepared statement, Grassley (R-Iowa) said he could not support Shwartz’s nomination, which has garnered national attention, because of “ambiguity” in her testimony and concerns she may have promised things to one of her home-state senators, Democrat Robert Menendez.
Menendez had initially blocked her nomination, reportedly because he was upset that Shwartz’s long-time companion, a federal prosecutor, had pursued a public corruption case against him. Menendez ultimately recommended the federal magistrate judge after meeting with her a second time.
“Her responses to my questions made during, and following, her hearing leave me troubled and dissatisfied,” Grassley, the committee’s ranking member, said in a statement Thursday.
At a February committee hearing, Grassley asked the Newark, N.J.-based Shwartz to explain what changed Menendez’s mind on her nomination. She told the committee that she could not speak for Menendez and that she did not give him any type of “assurances” on how she might rule on cases, according to a report in The Record.
Thursday, Grassley made it known that he was unconvinced by Shwartz’s answers, both in the hearing and in written responses to questions submitted for the record. “Questions remain as to what assurances, understandings or clarifications were made that persuaded Sen. Menendez to end his opposition and support the nominee,” Grassley said in the statement Thursday.
In the written responses, Shwartz said in her two meetings with Menendez, the two talked about a variety of legal issues and cases, but “at at no time did he ask for, nor did I offer, my personal views nor did I give any indication as to how I would rule on any issue that might come before me as a judge.”
She wrote that the two talked about Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission and Roe v. Wade.
News that Menendez was blocking Shwartz’s nomination came by way of a front page New York Times story in January. In a long-standing senatorial courtesy, Menendez was given the opportunity to weigh in on her nominations. Senators, in an action known as “blue-slipping,” cast their recommendation of yes or no, or they can withhold the recommendation by not returning a blue slip. Three months after Shwartz was nominated by President Barack Obama in October, the New Jersey senator still had not returned his blue slip.
The New York Times suggested Menendez withheld his blue slip because of a past investigation into his conduct supervised by Shwartz’s companion James Nobile, head of the special prosecutions unit in the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s office. Nobile was the unit chief when, in 2006, prosecutors opened an investigation into Menendez’s relationship with a nonprofit group that rented space from him, according the New York Times. Investigators were looking into whether the group paid higher rent in exchange for Menendez’s support.
Menendez’s records were subpoenaed two months before Election Day, and Democrats claimed that then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie – now the state’s Republican governor – was motivated by politics. Menendez ultimately won his contest, and the investigation was closed in 2011 with no charges filed.
After the story was published, Menendez released a statement saying he had “substantive” concerns about Shwartz’s breadth of knowledge as a judge. A week later, Menendez changed his tune, saying after a second meeting with Shwartz his worries were assuaged. In fact, at her nomination hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee last month, Menendez recommended her for the position.
“I can say that, in my meetings with Judge Shwartz, I have learned that she is clearly a person of character,” Menendez told the committee, according to The Record. “I have been persuaded.”