Judiciary advances circuit court nominee after bitter fight over serial-killer case

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines Thursday to advance a circuit court judicial nominee who drew strong GOP criticism after voicing empathy for a convicted serial killer.

The committee voted 11 to 7 to advance Connecticut’s Robert Chatigny’s nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court to the full Senate.

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Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinBuzzFeed story has more to say about media than the president The Hill's Morning Report — Shutdown fallout — economic distress Feinstein grappling with vote on AG nominee Barr MORE (D-Calif.) was present but declined to vote for or against Chatigny after Republicans blasted the nominee for what they called his “long history of extreme leniency in criminal sentencing.”

Democrats defended Chatigny as a “well-respected” district court judge and cited the support of three former U.S. attorneys for the District of Connecticut appointed by Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Republicans argue that Chatigny has taken judicial empathy to an extreme and let his personal views color his legal opinions.

The opposition has focused on Chatigny’s conduct in a case against Michael Ross, a serial killer who admitted to murdering eight women.

Chatigny said Ross’s sexual sadism was a mitigating factor in the case after Ross claimed that his sex drive had become fused with violent impulses.

Republicans have highlighted Chatigny’s statement that Ross should “never have been convicted. Or if convicted, he never should have been sentenced to death.”

Chatigny said Ross “may be the least culpable, the least, of people on death row.”

Chatigny issued several stays of Ross’s execution and pressured Ross’s defense attorney not to drop further appeals in the case. Ross was eventually put to death.

“This judge demonstrated the case were about him and not about the victims or the defendant,” Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnThe Hill's Morning Report — Presented by PhRMA — Worries grow about political violence as midterms approach President Trump’s war on federal waste American patients face too many hurdles in regard to health-care access MORE (R-Okla.) said after the mark-up Thursday.

Conservative advocacy groups such as FRC Action, the lobbying arm of the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, have also weighed in against Chatigny.

Democrats rebutted the GOP arguments by arguing that Chatigny’s sentences have not deviated from federal guidelines any more than most judges.

Between 2005 and 2009, Chatigny’s sentences fell below federal guidelines in 34.5 percent of his criminal cases, according to Senate Judiciary Committee data. Other judges on his district court fell below federal guidelines in 32.2 percent of criminal cases.

Democrats also noted that in Chatigny’s 15 years as a federal judge, the government hasn’t appealed any of his sentences.

Democrats also appointed to a strong letter of support from three GOP-appointed Department of Justice Officials: Alan Nevas, U.S. Attorney for District of Connecticut from 1981 to 1985; Kevin O'Connor, U.S. Attorney for Connecticut from 2002 to 2008; and Stanley Twardy, Jr., U.S. Attorney for Connecticut from 1985 to 1991.

Even Coburn recognized that Chatigny was “not out of line with the rest of the judges” when he questioned him at a hearing.

But Coburn said Chatigny’s record was still troubling.

“This is judicial activism and it’s concerning,” he said.