Apart from a brief exchange about a 24-year-old Harvard Law School article, City Hall’s top lawyer sailed through a 40-minute hearing Tuesday morning on Capitol Hill en route to a potential federal judgeship.
Victor Bolden, New Haven government’s corporation counsel, was one of four nominees to the federal bench who appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee. President Obama nominated Bolden on June 13.
Click here to see a replay of the hearing.
Click here to read an 81-page questionnaire Bolden filled out in preparation for the hearing.
The committee did not vote Tuesday morning. Bolden needs the committee’s, and the full Senate’s, confirmation to ascend to the bench. Senators still have seven days to submit written questions to the nominees. But if Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, no opposition move to Bolden appears to be afoot. (Political party squabbles unrelated to nominees can ultimately delay final votes on judges.)
Unlike in the 2006 confirmation hearings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Bolden did not face tough questions on the most controversial case to come out of New Haven in years: Ricci v. DeStefano. That case pitted a mostly-white group of 20 firefighters against the city, which had thrown out the results of a firefighter promotions exam after no African-Americans scored highly enough to make rank.
Firefighter Frank Ricci, the lead plaintiff in the case, testified against Sotamayor at her confirmation. At Bolden’s hearing, Ricci sent a letter of support. Bolden worked for the city at the time the case hit the Supreme Court, but not at the time the city made decisions that led to the suit.
The only other mention of the Ricci case Tuesday morning came when U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, a Delaware Democrat, praised Bolden for his handling of the matter, before and after the Supreme Court reversal. Coons said the letter of support from Ricci, “speaks volumes to your character and to your appropriateness to the bench.”
For most of the brief hearing, committee chair U.S. Sen. Dick Blumenthal was the only committee member in the room.
Connecticut’s other senator, Chris Murphy, introduced Bolden at the start of the hearing. He listed Bolden’s resume: BA from Columbia, JD from Harvard, counsel for the ACLU and the NAACP, worked at Wiggin and Dana, brings cake to staff every Friday.
Bolden, like the other nominees, introduced family members who had come to see the hearing. He had his 11-year-old son Caleb with him, along with parents, siblings, nieces and nephews.
U.S. Sen Chuck Grassley (pictured), an Iowa Republican, had the first question. “I enjoy asking people nominees about something they wrote a very long time ago and seeing if they still agree,” he said. Citing a 1990 Harvard Blackletter Journal article titled “Judge Not, That Ye May Not Be Judged: A Dramatic Call for a More Enlightened Approach to Judicial Decision-Making in Race Discrimination Cases,” Grassley said, “You wrote imaginary dialogue between certain deceased Supreme Court justices and God, and those conversations didn’t turn out well for the justices.” God damned the judges to hell.
At the end of the piece, Bolden laid out four principles that define proper judicial decision-making. Grassley asked Bolden if he still agrees with those principles, one by one.
The four principles: “If the decision affects society’s dispossessed and oppressed, the decision must be made in a way that eases their burden and does not add to their woes. ... The judge must consider how she or he would want to be treated if they were in the same circumstances as the person they are about to affect with their decision. ... A judge has to be held accountable when their talent is not used to restructure legal systems ... if that is what needs to be done. ... Judges must be mindful of the fruits or consequences of their decision.”
As has become common practice in judicial confirmation hearings, Bolden answered each question with a promise to follow the rule of law and legal precedent when issuing decisions from the bench. “I can assure you that … my decision-making would be based solely on the applicable law and the fact in evidence before me, not based on my musings, in fictional form, written when I was a law student,” Bolden told Grassley.
After a few more softball questions from Blumenthal (pictured) and Coons, the hearing adjourned at 10:30 a.m. Blumenthal said the nominees can expect to receive more questions in writing from committee members.