Senate Judiciary Committee takes up nomination of Oregon justice for federal court opening

By Conrad Wilson (OPB)
Oct. 12, 2022 9:34 p.m.

During a hearing in Washington D.C., Adrienne Nelson, an associate justice on the Oregon Supreme Court, told senators she brings an open mind, impartiality to each case

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday took up the nomination of Adrienne Nelson to the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Oregon.

If confirmed, Nelson, an associate justice on the state Supreme Court, would be the first Black woman jurist in Oregon to become a federal judge.

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“I would like to acknowledge the spirits of my late father, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and dear friends who are no longer with us here on earth, but who are always with me,” Nelson said during introductory remarks before the committee Wednesday. “I feel their presence in the room today. I hope to make everyone proud.”

Prior to her appointment to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2018 by Gov. Kate Brown, Nelson spent more than a decade as a Multnomah County Circuit Court judge. She also worked in private practice and as a public defender for Multnomah Defenders Inc., one of two nonprofit public defense firms in Portland.

During Wednesday’s committee hearing in Washington D.C., Nelson said as a judge and now justice, she’s overseen more than 300 trials, thousands of legal matters and hundreds of oral arguments.

In this screenshot from a video feed, Hon. Adrienne C. Nelson testifies during a nomination hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2022. Nelson is currently an associate justice on the Oregon Supreme Court and is nominated to be an United States District Judge for the District of Oregon.

In this screenshot from a video feed, Hon. Adrienne C. Nelson testifies during a nomination hearing before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary in Washington, D.C., Oct. 12, 2022. Nelson is currently an associate justice on the Oregon Supreme Court and is nominated to be an United States District Judge for the District of Oregon.

Screenshot/US Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing / US Senate Committee on the Judiciary hearing

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“I approach each case with an open mind and treat everyone fairly, impartially, because to the litigants their case is the most important case in the world,” Nelson told the committee. “I try to communicate all decisions clearly, so that they can be understood. And if I’m so fortunate to be confirmed, I would continue to do that.”

With the Senate in recess, Wednesday’s hearing was relatively brief. The panel of nominees answered largely friendly questions from Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Illinois, who chairs the judiciary committee.

President Joe Biden nominated Nelson, 55, in July. Durbin told the panel it’s possible the full Senate could take up nominations and vote on them by early December.

If confirmed, Nelson would take a seat on the district court bench previously occupied by judge Michael Mosman, who last year took senior status, a form of semi-retirement where judges still hear cases but reduce their workload.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, introduced Nelson and urged the committee to support her nomination to the court, a lifetime appointment.

“She’s highly accomplished and a decorated lawyer,” Wyden told his Senate colleagues, noting that current colleagues on the Oregon Supreme Court, business and nonprofit leaders, law enforcement and prosecutors all champion her nomination.

“These letters of support describe Justice Nelson as a hard working individual, a source of humility, a jurist committed to fairness and justice for all. So, there is no question in our view of her top notch qualifications. She will make an excellent federal judge.”

If Nelson were to be confirmed before the end of the year, it could give Brown another appointee to the Oregon Supreme Court, before she leaves office at the end of the year. During her time in office, Brown has appointed five of Oregon’s seven Supreme Court justices. Last week, associate Justice Thomas Balmer also announced his retirement at the end of December, despite his term ending in 2027.

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