WASHINGTON — During a mostly trouble-free hearing Wednesday, Nancy
Torresen told the Senate Judiciary Committee that, as a federal judge,
she would be an even-handed jurist who focuses on facts and higher-court
precedents.

Torresen, President Obama’s nominee for the U.S. District Court for
Maine, was lauded at the beginning of the hearing by both of Maine’s
U.S. senators, Republicans Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe.

Collins said the assistant U.S. attorney and former assistant state
attorney general’s “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.”

Snowe noted that Torresen would be Maine’s first female federal judge,
and that her husband, Jay McCloskey, is a former U.S. attorney.

If Torresen’s nomination is reported out by the Judiciary Committee, the
next step will be a confirmation vote by the Senate.

When Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., who chaired the hearing, asked
Torresen and four other federal court nominees to describe their
judicial philosophies, Torresen said she would be as open-minded as
possible in listening to arguments and delving into the facts of a case.

At the same time, her decisions would be governed by established law and
judicial precedents, and she would try to resolve cases “as narrowly as
possible,” Torresen said.

Asked about her view on legal precedents, Torresen said she would be
bound by rulings of the courts above her: the U.S. Supreme Court and the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which includes Maine.

“Their word is the final say,” she said.

Torresen said her role as a federal prosecutor isn’t far removed from
that of a judge because she sees that justice is done, maintaining an
objective view and considering all sides in deciding whether to go
forward with charges in a case.

She took several pointed questions from the top Republican on the
committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the only senator besides Coons
who questioned nominees during the hearing. Collins and Snowe are not
members of the committee.

Grassley asked about Torresen’s stint from 2006 to 2009 on the board of
directors of the Mabel Wadsworth Women’s Health Center in Bangor, which
does abortions, he noted.

He said the Wadsworth center characterized George Tiller, a doctor in
Kansas who did late-term abortions and was fatally shot in 2009, as a
hero. He asked if Torresen agreed with that characterization.

Torresen responded that the center provides an array of women’s health
services, but not late-term abortions. She said she wasn’t aware of the
center’s reference to Tiller, adding that her views aren’t “squarely
aligned” with the center’s views.

On the topic of abortion as it would apply to her role as a judge, Torresen said any personal opinions would be left outside the courtroom.
Grassley also asked about a letter that Torresen wrote to the Bangor
Daily News in 1995 criticizing the Bangor-Brewer YWCA for turning down

“It’s clear that homophobia is behind the YWCA’s decision to reject the
money,” Torresen wrote. “The YWCA’s implicit message is that it doesn’t
care if lesbian women die of breast cancer.”

Asked by Grassley whether she believes the latter statement, Torresen
said she now regards it as “a bit hyperbolic.” She noted that she wrote
the letter 16 years ago and has since “matured.”

Grassley said in an interview after the hearing that he asked his
questions to get those issues on the record. Asked whether he will
support or oppose Torresen’s nomination, he said he intends to review
the full record of her nomination before deciding.

Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond Law School and an
expert on judicial nominations, watched the hearing on the committee’s
website. He said Grassley’s questions didn’t appear to be the type that
would likely derail Torresen’s nomination to the three-judge district
court in Maine.

“I think it’s more like a blip,” said Tobias, who didn’t sense that
Grassley was being very aggressive in following up on his questions and
“didn’t seem troubled by her answers. She handled both questions as well
as she could. You can tell she has been in a courtroom.”

Tobias said it is an important boost to Torresen that both of her home
state senators, both of them Republicans, support her nomination.

Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:
[email protected]