Senate committee split on Japanese American judicial nominee

A US Senate panel on Thursday voted in favor of advancing five of President Joe Biden’s district court picks but deadlocked on one who had faced Republican questions about her views on racial discrimination and affirmative action.

The US Senate Judiciary Committee split 11-11 on whether to endorse US Magistrate Judge Kenly Kiya Kato’s nomination to become the first Japanese-American woman to serve as a federal district court judge in the Central District of California.

The panel’s divided vote means the Senate must first vote to discharge her nomination from the committee before any consideration of her nomination by the full Senate can begin.

Democrats had praised Kato’s experience a former public defender at her Feb. 1 nomination hearing and said her appointment would further the Biden administration’s efforts to diversify the federal bench.

But Republicans at that hearing pressed Kato on her views about discrimination after zeroing in on a book review she co-wrote as a student at Harvard Law School that said neo-conservative Asian-Americans internalize “the dialogue of oppressors.”

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said the book review conveyed that “to be sufficiently woke, an Asian American must support policies that discriminate against Asian Americans.”

He noted Harvard, her law school alma mater, was facing a lawsuit now before the US Supreme Court alleging it discriminated against Asian-American undergraduate applicants through race-conscious admissions processes aimed at boosting diversity.

“Does that practice concern you?” Cruz asked.

Kato declined to discuss the case, a challenge to affirmative action on college campuses, noting it is pending.

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s ranking Republican, on Thursday said he was “disappointed she wouldn’t answer whether she thought racial discrimination was wrong.”

Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii called those questions “uncalled for” while noting Kato’s parents were detained as children in internment camps with other Japanese Americans during World War II.

“Of course she understands how terrible racial discrimination is,” Hirono said.

The panel, meanwhile, voted 12-10 to advance Nina Morrison, a lawyer at the Innocence Project whose career has focused on exonerating people, who is nominated to be a federal judge in Brooklyn.

The panel also advanced Jennifer Rochon, the Girl Scouts of the United States of America’s general counsel nominated to be a Manhattan federal judge, and Trina Thompson, a California state court judge picked for the Northern District of California.

For the Central District of California, the panel also advanced Sunshine Sykes and Sherilyn Garnett, both state court judges currently.

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