GOP criticizes Biden justice candidate’s defense of death row inmate

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Arianna Freeman, nominee for judge on the 3rd United States Circuit Court of Appeals, appears before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee March 2, 2022, in Washington, DCUS Senate/Handout via REUTERS

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  • Arianna Freeman would be the first black female judge on the 3rd Circuit
  • President Joe Biden’s judicial nominees include 23 current or former public defenders

(Reuters) – A public defender appointed by President Joe Biden to serve on a federal appeals court came under fire from Senate Republicans on Wednesday for helping to successfully overturn a death row inmate’s death sentence, the calling him a “zealot” for fighting capital punishment.

Democrats on the US Senate Judiciary Committee in response hailed Arianna Freeman’s plea for indigent defendants as the panel considered her nomination to become the first black female judge on the Philadelphia-based 3rd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

She is one of 23 nominees with experience as a public defender that Biden has leveraged for the federal bench — a record number, resulting from Biden’s desire to not only increase the racial and gender diversity of judges, but also to attract candidates from a wider range of professional backgrounds.

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Freeman, an attorney with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania since 2009, said she believes “the court system works best when both sides have quality representation.”

Her work as a court-appointed defense attorney opened her up to opposition from Republicans, including one of her two home state senators, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, who declined. to give her back a so-called “blue slip” supporting her.

Toomey believes Freeman only has credentials in a “niche area of ​​law” and lacks the “breadth of experience” needed for the role, a spokesperson said.

His support, however, is not needed because Democratic committee chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois follows a policy adopted by GOP senators during the Trump era of not requiring “blue slips” for circuit court choices. He said she had “an amazing experience”.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, a Republican, called Freeman a “death penalty fanatic” as he and others criticized his advocacy for a Pennsylvania death row inmate whose sentence was eventually overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2016.

Freeman did not argue the Supreme Court appeal for Terrance Williams, who was convicted of murder in 1984, but was part of the team handling his federal habeas corpus challenge against his sentencing. death by state court.

Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri cited “extremely disturbing” claims in a concurring opinion, now-retired Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille, issued when his court upheld the sentence of Williams who claimed that Freeman’s office was pursuing an “anti-death penalty obstructionist program”.

Freeman remarked that “it was his opinion”.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s own decision was based on the failure of Castille, a Republican who prosecuted Williams as a Philadelphia district attorney before joining the Pennsylvania high court, to opt out of the appeal. of Williams.

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