WASHINGTON — Two judicial nominees from Oregon — Judge Marco Hernandez and lawyer Michael Simon — came to the nation’s capital Wednesday for a confirmation hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
President Obama nominated both men to be Oregon U.S. District Court judges in July. Hernandez, a 1983 graduate of Western Oregon University, is a Washington County Circuit Court judge. Simon is a partner in the Portland law firm Perkins Coie.
Hernandez fielded few questions from lawmakers, expanding on only one point: the necessity of “judicial temperament and evenness, so that parties that appear before you believe you’re judging in an impartial way.”
Simon was challenged by the committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, about his work as a volunteer lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. Sessions asked whether Simon supported the organization’s opposition to the death penalty and censoring pornography.
The Portland lawyer said he has taken no public stance on these issues but would follow the precedent of the U.S. Supreme Court. He assured Sessions that he would adhere to sentencing guidelines and would “have no difficulty” issuing a death sentence “in the appropriate circumstances.”
Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced the nominees.
Merkley said both nominees will “add to Oregon’s judicial legacy.”
Wyden called Simon a central figure in Oregon’s legal, civic and nonprofit groups.
“There’s virtually no organization in our state that doesn’t seek out the services of Michael Simon,” he said.
Wyden said Hernandez is “always looking for creative solutions,” citing as examples the judge’s initiatives dealing with domestic violence and mental illness.
Hernandez was nominated to Oregon’s U.S. District Court by President George W. Bush in 2008, but his nomination was not confirmed before Bush left office. Obama started the process over. The position Hernandez will fill if confirmed has been vacant for nearly two years.
Wyden said Hernandez has been popular with presidents of both political parties because “his life is essentially a billboard for the American Dream.”
Hernandez, one of the state’s few Hispanic judges, worked in Oregon as a dishwasher, then as a janitor, and then as a teacher’s aide, Wyden said. After taking night classes, Hernandez enrolled at WOU — then called Western Oregon State College — and earned his law degree from the University of Washington in 1986.
He spent a few years representing farm workers for Legal Services — a job that drew “a lot of antagonism from people who did not like farm workers,” as he told the Statesman Journal in a 2005 interview — before becoming a deputy district attorney in Washington County in 1989.
He was part of a task force that issued a landmark report on racial and ethnic minorities in the state court system in May 1994. As a result of the report, more translators and Spanish-language court documents are available today.
Gov. Barbara Roberts named Hernandez to a judgeship before she left office in January 1995.
Simon specializes in business litigation in state and federal courts for Perkins Coie. Before he joined the firm in 1986, he was a trial attorney for the Antitrust Division of the U.S. Justice Department in Washington, D.C. Simon earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1978 and a law degree from Harvard University in 1981.
Hernandez was joined by his wife, Mary Beth, and his two children and his parents.
Simon’s wife, Oregon state Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, and his daughter also attended. Simon said his son, who is studying abroad, watched the hearing via live webcast.
Paul De Muniz of Salem, chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court and Oregon’s most prominent Hispanic judge, also attended the hearing.
Hernandez and Simon must be approved by the Judiciary Committee and then confirmed by the full Senate. Oregon’s senators urged the committee to work fast.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Wyden said. “The people of my home state deserve a full federal bench.”
Peter Wong contributed to this story.
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