In a party-line vote, the Democratic-led Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday recommended the full Senate confirm Pamela A. Harris, of Potomac, to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
If confirmed, Harris would succeed Judge André M. Davis of Baltimore, who took senior status in February.
The full Senate has not yet scheduled a confirmation vote for Harris. President Obama nominated her on May 8 to the 4th Circuit, which hears appeals from federal courts in Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.
Each of the committee’s 10 Democrats voted for the recommendation; the panel’s eight Republicans — led by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa — voted against.
Before the vote, Grassley voiced deep concern with what he called Harris’ pre-nomination statements calling the U.S. Constitution “a profoundly progressive document … whose meaning may change over time.”
Those statements were so strong as to belie her later testimony before the committee that she would “apply law and precedent to the facts” of each case, Grassley said.
Harris has “consistently and aggressively advocated for very far-out constitutional theories,” added Grassley, the committee’s vice chairman. She has “a judicial philosophy unmoored by the constitutional text.”
But Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., called Harris “a highly accomplished lawyer” who has the broad support of her “professional peers” across the political spectrum.
“I have heard some senators claim that Pamela Harris would be unable to set aside political views and faithfully uphold the Constitution,” Leahy, the committee’s chair, said in a statement. “This is contradicted by both her testimony before the committee and her professional record.”
Harris, a visiting professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, specialized in appellate and Supreme Court litigation while at O’Melveny & Myers LLP in Washington from 1999 to 2009. From 2007 to 2009, she also co-directed Harvard Law School’s Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Clinic and was a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, according to a White House biography.
In 2009, she was named executive director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute but left the following year to become principal deputy assistant attorney general at the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy. She returned to Georgetown in 2012.
Harris, a graduate of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale in 1985 and a law degree from the New Haven, Connecticut school in 1990. She clerked for Judge Harry T. Edwards of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit from 1990 to 1991 and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens from 1992 to 1993, according to the White House biography.
From 1993 to 1996, she served as an attorney-adviser at the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Harris was an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania Law School from 1996 to 1999, when she joined O’Melveny & Myers.