Federal judicial nominee Holly A. Brady said Wednesday at her confirmation hearing that racial discrimination is wrong and that a judge must “get it right” when deciding whether any court case should proceed or be dismissed.
Otherwise, the Fort Wayne attorney declined to answer “what if” questions posed by members of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.
“The judicial canons would make it inappropriate for me to comment upon a hypothetical or facts that might come before me as a district court judge,” Brady said at the hearing, which was streamed live on the committee's website.
Brady, a partner with the Fort Wayne law firm Haller & Colvin, was nominated in April by President Donald Trump for a vacant seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. If confirmed by the entire Senate, Brady, who practices civil, employment and labor law, would replace Chief Judge Theresa Springmann in the court's Fort Wayne Division, with Springmann filling a vacancy in the Hammond Division.
The Judiciary Committee likely will make a recommendation on Brady's nomination in coming weeks.
Only three senators on the 21-member panel questioned Brady on Wednesday. Sens. John Kennedy, R-La., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., each wanted to know her thoughts on a 1986 Supreme Court ruling that forbids the exclusion of potential jurors because of their race.
After Brady said she would not discuss a hypothetical situation described by Kennedy – in which counsel asks that a black juror be dismissed for the given reason of not being smart enough to understand a case – the senator asked her, “Do you have an opinion on racial discrimination?”
Brady replied, “I think it is wrong.”
Kennedy: “You don't think you're going to have cases involving racial discrimination?”
Brady: “I'm certain that I will.”
Kennedy pressed further, but Brady did not budge.
Kennedy: “You're not going to answer, are you?”
Brady: “Well, I think it's inappropriate under the judicial canons for me to do so.”
The canons of the federal judiciary's code of conduct stress the importance of impartiality, integrity and independence for judges and judicial nominees.
Blumenthal later took a different approach with Kennedy's query.
“If a juror were struck for a reason that simply was a pretext for racial discrimination, what would you do?” Blumenthal asked Brady.
“I would inquire further of counsel in an effort to determine if it was in fact a pretext or if it was the actual reason,” she said.
Blumenthal asked whether she would deny a motion to exclude a juror “if you concluded that the reason was simply a pretext.”
“If I felt the reason was racially motivated, I would deny the strike,” Brady said.
Earlier, Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, asked Brady for her views about motions for case dismissals and summary judgments, in which a court is asked by counsel to decide a case on its merits without a full trial.
“I would apply the 25 years that I've been a litigator and know how important that motion for summary judgment is and how important it is that the judge get it right and the judge dismiss cases when they have not met their burden” of factual dispute “and let the others proceed to trial,” Brady said.
“I've been on the winning and losing end of those, and I know how important it is to the litigants that the court get it right,” she said.
Lee asked: “Enough so that you like to believe you know a genuine issue of material fact when you see it?”
Lee: “And you know the absence of such?”
Lee: “That's very helpful.”
Brady was among five district court nominees from four states who fielded questions from the Judiciary Committee. They included Indianapolis attorney James Patrick Hanlon, nominated for the Southern District of Indiana.
Brady and Hanlon were introduced to the panel by Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat, and Todd Young, a Republican. Both were lawyers before their election to Congress.
Donnelly said Brady, a private-practice attorney in Fort Wayne since 1994, has “handled a wide range of matters, from labor and employment to real estate to constitutional issues. This breadth of experience is sure to be an asset as she adapts to the role of a judge and tackles the various issues that come before our district courts.”
Donnelly said Brady “has dedicated significant time to pro bono efforts, community service and legal education outreach, especially to young Hoosiers. ... She regularly volunteers her time to speak to middle school students about legal practice.”
Young said Brady is regularly included in “The Best Lawyers in America,” a yearly publication that recognizes the top 5 percent of attorneys in the nation based on peer review.
Young said Brady and Hanlon “have earned excellent reputations in the legal community. Both are fair, impartial and highly regarded attorneys with the right temperament to serve on Indiana's district courts.”
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, watched the hearing and said in an email that Brady “seems well qualified and mainstream and the senators seemed satisfied with her few answers.”
He said the “strong support” expressed for Brady by Young and Donnelly “may be most important. It shows what can be achieved when the senators work together to find highly qualified consensus candidates.”
As for the fact that Brady has not been a judge, Tobias said, “Many district nominees come from practice rather than the bench and experiential diversity can be valuable.”