Senate confirms first Latina judge to conservative-majority 5th Circuit

The U.S. Senate this week confirmed the first Latina judge to serve on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, giving Democratic President Joe Biden his second appointee on a court whose conservative majority has often blocked his policies.

The Senate voted 80-12 to elevate U.S. Magistrate Irma Carrillo Ramirez to the New Orleans-based court, where she would become the fifth active Democratic appointee on a court dominated by the 12 judges nominated by Republican presidents.

The bipartisan vote reflected the support of Texas’ two Republican senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. They had recommended Biden nominate Ramirez, who has served as a federal magistrate judge in the Northern District of Texas since 2002.

Cornyn and Cruz had previously supported her when former President Barack Obama nominated Ramirez to a district court judgeship in 2016, but the Senate failed to confirm her when the Democrat’s time in the White House ended.

The “blue slip” custom in which senators must approve court nominees from their home states was abandoned for circuit judges during the Trump administration. But the support of home-state senators can still smooth the confirmation process for appellate nominees.

Overall, the Senate has now confirmed 160 of Biden’s judicial nominees. The vast majority of them have been women or people of color, in keeping with Biden’s campaign pledge to bring greater diversity to the federal bench.

Biden in December 2022 won confirmation of one other judge to the court, Dana Douglas, a former magistrate judge like Ramirez who became the first Black woman to sit on the 5th Circuit. Douglas is from Louisiana.

Ramirez fills a seat opened up when Gregg Costa, an Obama appointee, last year resigned from his position on the 5th Circuit at a relatively young age for a judge, 49, and joined the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Ramirez, the Texas-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, began her career as an associate at the law firm now known as Locke Lord from 1991 to 1995 before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas.

She was sworn in as a magistrate judge in 2002, and largely has presided over civil matters in that role. Biden nominated her to the 5th Circuit in April.

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