La. judge nominee goes before panel

Federal judge nominee Shelly D. Dick, of Baton Rouge, sailed through her congressional hearing Wednesday, but she acknowledged she may not receive her official confirmation from the Senate until early next year.

The Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony and quizzed Dick and three other judicial nominees during an expedited hearing held before the end of the year. Dick has bipartisan support from Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and David Vitter, R-La.

Dick was nominated by President Barack Obama in April to become the first female judge in the federal Middle District of Louisiana, based in Baton Rouge, but she was initially blocked by Vitter, who was holding out hope that GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney would defeat Obama. After Obama won re-election last month, Vitter quickly withdrew his block and said he backed Dick receiving a fast-tracked confirmation process.

“I feel really honored and privileged,” Dick said after her hearing, where she was joined by her parents, husband, two of her sons and work colleagues. “I was really humbled by the support from Sens. Landrieu and Vitter.”

Dick said that she does not “hold out a lot of hope” that she will be confirmed this month, understanding that Congress is busy working out the so-called “fiscal cliff.”

“That Middle District is really backlogged,” Dick said. “So it’s important to get in there and get those cases moving so people can have their day in court.”

Dick, 52, is a native of El Paso, Texas, who moved to Baton Rouge when she started LSU Law School in 1985.

She is a founding partner in Forrester & Dick, a Baton Rouge law firm specializing in litigation. A year ago, she was one of three possible nominees recommended to Obama by Landrieu to replace the late Chief U.S. District Judge Ralph E. Tyson. Dick is a veteran defense attorney in civil litigation in federal court. And she has represented both government and non-government clients in matters of federal employment law.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who follows the federal judiciary, said Dick’s hearing appeared successful, especially with Vitter showing up in her support.

“I’m certain she’ll be confirmed. It’s just a matter of when,” Tobias said, noting that early 2013 is the most likely scenario. “The calendar is working against her. There are still 18 people (other nominees) ahead of her.”

Still, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., is continuing to push to get Dick and as many other nominees confirmed before the end of the year as possible, even if it is unlikely. Leahy has repeatedly complained about Republicans stalling nominees from being confirmed.

“The nomination of Shelly Dick to the Middle District of Louisiana has been stalled since she was nominated back in April because the Republican senator from that state would not return a ‘blue slip’ indicating his support,” Leahy stated in his prepared remarks.

“Following President Obama’s re-election in November, he finally relinquished his hold on the nomination. It is past time to confirm this nominee. Now that Sen. Vitter has indicated, after an eight-month delay, that he supports the nomination, we should expedite Senate consideration.

“I see no reason why the Senate should not confirm all … of the nominees appearing before us (Wednesday) before the end of the year,” Leahy added.

In the U.S. Senate, each senator is given a “blue slip” by
the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee on nominations in their state for federal judge, U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal.

Only once the two senators from the state of the nominee return the slips showing their approval is the confirmation hearing held.

Dick was the only federal judge nominee stalled out of five nominations Obama made at the same time in April.

“Shelly Dick comes equipped with decades of federal court litigation experience, which I think is very important,” Landrieu said when introducing Dick during the hearing.

“She brings to this committee a very thorough understanding of federal law, an unquestionably fair and evenhanded temperament and a wonderful attitude.”

“I think she brings a lot of common sense and common ground to the bench, which is very important, and a true understanding of the law and its ramifications,” Landrieu added, noting that she also is impressed with Dick’s hunger mission trips to Cambodia, South Africa and Kenya.

Vitter also was quick to offer his “strong support” of Dick’s qualifications.

“It’s a terrifically solid legal background,” Vitter said. “There’s a lot of good qualifications and real-world practice experience, which is invaluable particularly for the district court position.”

“I urge and look forward to her confirmation,” he added.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told Dick and Wednesday’s other three federal nominees not to be discouraged that only four members of the committee participated.

“That’s actually a good thing,” Whitehouse said. “It’s a sign of non-controversialness.”

Dick told the committee members she intends to serve as a “grassroots foot soldier” to uphold federal law.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., asked her about her lack of experience practicing criminal law and if that was an issue.

“I don’t feel qualified right now, but I will be qualified and the way I’ll get to that … is work ethic, work ethic, work ethic,” Dick responded.