One of President Joe Biden's judicial nominees is faltering after she flip-flopped over a past statement about police shootings.
Nusrat Choudhury, Biden's pick for a New York City federal trial court, allegedly claimed during a 2015 panel that police shoot unarmed black people every day in the United States. Choudhury defended the statement in a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in April. But on May 11, Choudhury told the committee she had never made such a statement.
"I did not make this statement. I strongly disavow this statement, and I regret not disavowing this statement during my hearing," Choudhury wrote in a letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pushing for a second hearing to question Choudhury's about-face, which they say poses problems for future nominations.
"If nominees are allowed to testify one way before the Judiciary Committee and then send a letter reversing themselves, it would be a new level of deterioration for the nominations process," committee Republicans wrote in a letter to committee chair Dick Durbin (D., Ill.), which the Free Beacon obtained.
Republicans have yet to defeat one of Biden's judicial nominees, and Choudhury's unexplained turnabout presents their best opportunity yet. A second hearing would prolong the confirmation process and heighten pressure on the nominee.
Choudhury is a career ACLU lawyer whom Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) has championed for the bench. She participated on a panel at Princeton's School of Public and International Affairs in 2015. A representative from a school alumni group live-tweeted the event and reported that Choudhury claimed unarmed black people are shot by police on a daily basis.
There is no record of Choudhury's statement apart from the tweet. But when pressed by Sen. John Kennedy (R., La.) about the claim at an April 27 hearing, Choudhury said she had been "engaging in rhetorical advocacy" three times and never disavowed the false claim.
Fatal police shootings of unarmed blacks average about 22 per year, according to Manhattan Institute data.
Republicans say Choudhury should answer questions about her reversal, and they suspect the letter, which came two weeks after her initial hearing, was an insincere damage control ploy.
"This letter looks like a piece of ‘rhetorical advocacy' and blatant ‘confirmation conversion' by Ms. Choudhury," Republicans wrote to Durbin.
It's unusual that a judicial nominee would appear twice before the Senate Judiciary Committee, though Democrats strong-armed Justice Brett Kavanaugh into dual appearances during his confirmation to a federal appeals court and the Supreme Court. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said the step is justified given Choudhury's inconsistent testimonies.
"This isn't just a case where she misspoke and her letter clarified what she meant. It directly conflicts. The only way to address this is for Ms. Choudhury to come back for another hearing," Grassley said.
Law enforcement groups denounced Choudhury's 2015 statement and failure to renounce it at the hearing. Patrick Yoes, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, called on the Senate to reject her confirmation. The National Sheriffs' Association and the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association joined the Fraternal Order in opposition.
"She said it with malice aforethought and in so doing buttressed the increased public bias against law enforcement officers and contributed to the barrage of false and hateful rhetoric that inspires others to violence," Yoes said.
The Judiciary Committee was set to forward a slate of nominations, including Choudhury's, to the full Senate at a Thursday morning hearing. The panel delayed the slate at the last minute, giving Republicans an opportunity to ramp up pressure on the nominee.
Democrats are facing a time crunch on judicial nominations. Biden may have just a few months left to leave his mark on the federal judiciary, given that Republicans are favored to take control of the Senate in November. Republicans confirmed only a handful of judicial nominees under former president Barack Obama after seizing the upper chamber in 2014, and there is every reason to think the GOP will resume its confirmation blockade in the new Congress.
After an initial burst of success, the White House's judicial confirmation effort is faltering. There are about 80 vacancies as of this writing, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The president has named nominees for fewer than one-third of those seats.