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Cruz, Hawley slam judicial nominee for defending innocent clients

Is it Ted Cruz’s and Josh Hawley’s position that lawyers who represent people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit are some kind of societal scourge?


President Joe Biden hasn’t just prioritized a diverse group of progressive judicial nominees, the White House has also made a point to choose jurists with backgrounds in criminal defense.

For example, the Innocence Project has spent years focusing on exonerating people who were wrongly convicted. Nina Morrison has worked as the organization’s senior litigation counsel — she’s freed more than 30 innocent people from prison and death row — and the Democratic president nominated her for a seat on the District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

As her confirmation hearing yesterday got underway, Morrison was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who told Judiciary Committee members that the nominee is “an attorney who has dedicated the bulk of her career to representing those who could not speak for themselves, and more precisely those wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit.”

Perhaps the panel’s Republican members didn’t quite understand what that meant. HuffPost’s Jennifer Bendery had a terrific report yesterday on the “embarrassingly ill-informed” questions Morrison faced.

... Republicans on the Judiciary Committee went after Morrison as if she had committed the crimes that her clients were convicted of — that they didn’t actually commit, either. They tried to blame her for recent spikes in violent crimes in cities, and pressed her on whether she felt guilty about freeing people from prison who had been convicted of violent crimes, glossing over the fact that they had been exonerated by DNA evidence.

Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Morrison, “Across this country, Americans are horrified at skyrocketing crime rates, at skyrocketing homicide rates, at skyrocketing burglary rates, at skyrocketing carjacking rates. All of those are the direct result of the policies you’ve spent your entire lifetime advancing.”

Republican Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri complained about the Biden White House’s “soft-on-crime” nominees, adding, “I will oppose you and anyone else the administration sends to us who do not understand the necessity of the rule of law.”

I can imagine the kind of person who might infuriate GOP senators. There are some local prosecutors, for example, who’ve instituted progressive reforms that the right not only hates, but links directly to higher crime rates.

But that’s precisely what made yesterday’s hearing so exasperating: Morrison represented innocent people.

Is it Cruz’s and Hawley’s position that lawyers who represent people convicted of crimes they didn’t commit are some kind of societal scourge? They should be disqualified as possible judges because they helped free innocent people who were wrongly convicted?

It’s simply baffling.

From what I saw of the hearing, the fact that Nina Morrison kept her cool and calmly deflected obviously unfair lines of questioning suggests she has exactly the kind of temperament needed on the federal bench.