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Wolford answers Republicans’ questions

By: Denise M. Champagne//July 28, 2013

Wolford answers Republicans’ questions

By: Denise M. Champagne//July 28, 2013

Elizabeth A. Wolford
Elizabeth A. Wolford

The Senate Committee on the Judiciary is expected to decide Thursday whether or not to forward the nomination of Rochester attorney Elizabeth A. Wolford to the full Senate for a confirmation vote.

Her nomination was one of four the committee held over this past Thursday, a common move the first time a nomination appears on the post-hearing agenda.

The committee also posted questions for Wolford that had been submitted since her July 11 hearing, and her answers.

The only inquiries came from Sens. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who each submitted several questions, asking about Wolford’s qualifications, legal views and comments she had previously made.

Grassley, the committee’s ranking member, started out with a question about a 2004 column Wolford had written for The Daily Record, applying the principles of the Supreme Court’s 1954 landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483, to same-sex marriages.

He points out that she wrote “the principle of Brown v. Board of Education stands for the proposition that the beliefs of the majority have no usefulness when dealing with issues of civil rights.”

“Can you please explain what you meant by that statement?” Grassley asked.

She answered that the principle set forth in Brown is that even if the majority was opposed to allowing racially segregated schools, the Constitution did not allow it to impose its view upon the minority.

“In other words, if a right is constitutionally guaranteed, then it deserves constitutional protection, even if it is unpopular,” Wolford wrote.

“Is it your opinion that ‘beliefs of the majority’ are never ‘useful’ when dealing with a major issue such as the redefinition of marriage?” Grassley asked.

“No,” Wolford replied.

As for judicial attributes, she believes the most important is respect — for the law, litigants, the justice system and the position of a judge, attributes she believes she possesses. Wolford also indicated she believes she possesses the patience, openmindedness, transparency, decisiveness and ability to carefully listen, qualities she said reflect appropriate judicial temperament.

She did not say whether she believes the death penalty is an appropriate form of punishment, but that the Supreme Court has held it is constitutional and she would apply relevant Supreme Court and Second Circuit precedents to any case where death is a potential punishment.

Wolford said she recognizes the heavy caseload of judges in the Western District of New York and said she would work hard to effectively manage her caseload through the judicious use of magistrate judges, reasonable scheduling and the appropriate use of mediation and settlements.

Grassley also noted Wolford’s entire legal experience has been advocating for clients and asked how she will reach decisions that would come before her as a judge and what resources she will use for guidance.

“If confirmed, I would resolve legal issues by looking to relevant constitutional or statutory provisions and any precedent from the Supreme Court and the Court of the Appeals for the Second Circuit and I would resolve factual issues by looking to the admissible evidence in the record,” Wolford answered. “While I will need to familiarize myself with areas of the law with which I have not had as much experience as other areas, such as criminal law, I believe that the most difficult part of the transition will be adapting to the somewhat isolating nature of being a judge, which I anticipate will be very different than working with a team of lawyers advocating on behalf of a client.”

Cruz asked about Wolford’s judicial philosophy, congressional power and presidential power, and individual rights.

“Do you believe originalism should be used to interpret the Constitution?” Cruz asked.

Wolford answered a district judge faced with a constitutional question should determine if there is any binding precedent from the Supreme Court of the applicable circuit for his or her district.

“One example of a binding decision where the Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution using originalism is District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570 (2008),” she continued. “If I am confirmed as a district judge, I would follow United States Supreme Court precedent, including any binding precedent where the court used originalism to interpret the Constitution.”

Wolford wrote that courts may limit a president’s attempt to exercise executive powers in excess of those granted by the Constitution or an act of Congress, as recognized by the Supreme Court in Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 US 579 (1952).

Wolford, a partner in The Wolford Law Firm LLP, was nominated May 16 by President Barack Obama for consideration to fill the seat being vacated by Judge Charles J. Siragusa, who was elevated to senior status in December. The American Bar Association has unanimously rated her as qualified for the position.

If confirmed, she will be the first woman to sit on the federal bench in the Western District of New York.

Wolford, who has been in private practice for more than 20 years, focuses her practice primarily in commercial and employment litigation, representing clients in state and federal courts.

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