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 her nomination is reported out by the Judiciary Committee, the next step will be a confirmation vote by the Senate. Torresen would fill the seat currently held by Judge D. Brock Hornby, who last year assumed senior status but has continued to handle a full case load.
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 $25,000 it was offered for cancer education for lesbians. “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.”
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: