Kenneth Gonzales, US Attorney for New Mexico, has been answering questions from Republicans on the US Senate Judiciary Committee about his qualifications to be a federal judge, just as a partisan battle over President Barack Obama's appointees to federal courts heats up.
The New York Times on Saturday reported that a "fresh feud over federal judgeships has again begun to agitate the Senate, with Republicans so far blocking President Obama from filling any of the four vacancies on the nation’s most prestigious and important appeals court."
President Obama nominated Gonzales as a US District Court judge for New Mexico--not to an appellate court post--meaning he would be a trial court judge on the federal level. Gonzales is slated to replace Judge Bruce Black and fill the only US District Court vacancy in New Mexico, according to the United States Courts website.
Gonzales faced the Judiciary Committee in February, but it hasn't yet voted on whether to send his nomination to the full US Senate. The Judiciary Committee was scheduled to hold a hearing on his nomination last week, only to push it back to this week.
"I’m not sure the committee will vote him out on Thursday," Jessica Brady, press secretary for committee chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, writes in an email to SFR, "but there’s always that chance."
"I know that both parties are working in a bipartisan manner on this nomination," she writes.
Written questions from ranking member of the committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, included queries about Gonzales' views on the Second Amendment, the Equal Protections Clause, US Supreme Court precedent and whether it's proper for judges to rely on "foreign law" in interpreting the meaning of the US Constitution.
Gonzales replied that he'll commit to protect an individual's right to possess firearms. He cited the judicial doctrine of strict scrutiny in sustaining laws classified by "race, allegiance or national origin." Gonzales wrote he's committed to following US Supreme Court precedent even if he disagrees with it. When asked if it's proper for judges to consider "foreign law" in Constitutional interpretations, Gonzales replied no.
US Judiciary Committee member Ted Cruz, R-Texas, asked Gonzales more general questions, like how Gonzales would characterize his judicial philosophy. Gonzales declined to pigeonhole his views, replying that his judicial philosophy "is based on the importance of applying the law to the facts impartially" in cases that would come before him.
A New Mexico native, Gonzales worked as a legislative assistant for former US Democratic Senator Jeff Bingaman before beginning his career as a federal prosecutor in 1999.
New Mexico Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich testified in support of Gonzales' nomination in February. The two Democratic Senators are seeking to fill his post for a new top federal prosecutor in the state. Should the Senate nominate Gonzales, his replacement might have to decide whether to prosecute a politically charged case: the FBI's investigation into emails leaked by a liberal political action committee from Republican Gov. Susana Martinez' campaign email accounts.
-This post has been amended to reflect that Kenneth Gonzales is the US Attorney for New Mexico.