May 27, 2011

Torresen approved as Maine federal judge

By Jonathan Riskind
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON -- The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to approve the nomination of Nancy Torresen to be Maine's next federal court judge.

The unanimous bipartisan voice vote cleared Torresen for a Senate confirmation vote, perhaps this summer.

Torresen, an assistant U.S. attorney, was one of five U.S. District Court nominees who were approved by the Judiciary Committee during a brief meeting.

Among those who voted in favor of Torresen were several GOP senators, including the committee's top Republican, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa. Grassley said in an interview after the vote that he intends to vote for Torresen on the Senate floor.

Maine's U.S. senators, Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are not on the Judiciary Committee, but both attended a committee hearing on May 4 to support Torresen's nomination.

"The unanimous vote means that Torresen should easily be confirmed when she receives a floor vote because she is well qualified, uncontroversial and has strong support from the Maine senators," said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School and an expert on federal judicial nominations.

Grassley asked several pointed questions of Torresen during the hearing on May 4, including about Torresen's stint from 2006-09 on the board of directors of the Mabel Wadsworth Women's Health Center in Bangor, which Grassley noted does abortions.

Grassley said at the hearing that the Wadsworth center had characterized George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who carried out late-term abortions and was shot and killed in 2009, as a hero. He asked Torresen if she agreed with that characterization.

Torresen responded that the center offered an array of women's health services and did not conduct late-term abortions. She said that she was not aware of the center's reference to Tiller, and that her views are not "squarely aligned" with the center's views.

In her written response to Grassley, Torresen said she was not involved in the center's planning for a vigil for Tiller, did not attend the vigil and was not involved in the center's statements about Tiller.

Grassley said after the committee vote that he was satisfied with Torresen's responses to his questions.

Torreson was nominated by President Obama in early March to fill the seat being vacated by Judge D. Brock Hornby. Hornby, who was nominated in 1991 by President George H.W. Bush, went on senior status last year but continues to handle a full case load.

A Judiciary Committee spokeswoman said Torresen and the other four nominees approved Thursday join 14 nominees already awaiting Senate votes.

Judicial nominations sometimes move slowly to the Senate floor. But Tobias, the law professor, said Torreson's easy committee approval and strong support from Snowe and Collins -- whose votes often are sought by leaders from both parties -- could help her nomination get to the floor relatively quickly.

In a prepared statement after the committee vote, Snowe said, "Torresen would bring to the bench a diversity of trial and appellate experience before Maine's federal magistrate, and our district and appellate judges. I look forward to the full Senate's swift confirmation of this well-qualified nominee."

Collins noted in a statement that Torresen also has spent time in the Maine Attorney General's Office, as a prosecutor in appeals of serious crime convictions. She returned in 2001 to the U.S. Attorney's Office, based in Bangor, where she has investigated and prosecuted violent crimes.

"Nancy Torresen is well respected in the legal community," Collins said. "Her work as a prosecutor in both the federal and state judicial systems, her integrity, her temperament, and her respect for precedent make her well qualified to serve as Maine's next federal judge."

Jonathan Riskind -- 791-6280


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