Senate confirms Latina voting expert Myrna Pérez as federal appeals judge

The Senate voted Monday to confirm voting rights advocate Myrna Pérez as a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, making her the only Latino on the court and its first Latina since Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed for the Supreme Court.

Pérez was confirmed on a 48-43 vote as the country is gripped in a struggle over voting rights.

“She’s an exceptional lawyer that has demonstrated throughout her career that she has the experience, intellect, and temperament it takes to be an extraordinary judge of the U.S. appeals court,” Carlos Bollar, national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., praised the confirmation, calling Pérez an amazing person.

“With the national focus on voting rights now, it’s a significant step to elevate Ms. Perez,” Schumer said.

Pérez is the former director of voting rights and elections programs at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, which has been critical of voter ID laws and laws shortening time for early voting, as well as other measures restricting voting.

The 2nd Circuit hears federal appeals from New York, Vermont and Connecticut. It is one of 13 appeals courts and has 13 members.

Her confirmation helps President Joe Biden blunt criticism from Latinos and others about a dearth of Hispanics among his early nominees for judicial positions. Latinos for a Fair Judiciary has been pushing for more Latino judges.

When she was nominated, Schumer, D-N.Y., praised Pérez as one of the country’s foremost experts on elections and voting rights. He said the federal judiciary had long been stocked with corporate lawyers and prosecutors.

About 4.6 million Latinos live in the three states served by the court.

Most are in New York, where about 19.5 percent of the population is Latino. In Connecticut, 17.3 percent of the population is Hispanic and in Vermont, 2.4 percent.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 19 states enacted 33 laws from Jan. 1 to Sept. 27 to make it harder for Americans to vote. In the same period, at least 25 states enacted 62 laws to expand access to voting.

The country had its highest voter turnout in more than a century in the 2020 election. Some states and jurisdictions enacted voting procedures to protect voters during the coronavirus pandemic, such as mail-in balloting.

The election has been followed by a wave of legislative rancor over voting rights, with Democrats trying to make voting easier and Republicans pushing for more regulation.

The House has passed the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act. Republicans blocked the latter bill last week.

“With voting rights under attack across the country, Myrna Pérez’s confirmation will bring the kind of deep expertise in voting law the federal bench needs right now,” Brian Fallon, a co-founder and the executive director of Demand Justice, a group that supports Supreme Court and judicial reforms, said in a statement.

“Her work as a voting rights lawyer will allow her to bring much needed perspective to a federal bench that is skewed in favor of corporate and government interests,” Fallon said.

Pérez, a San Antonio native, received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University, a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University and a law degree from Columbia University. She is a first-generation college student, according to Latinos for a Fair Judiciary.

She clerked for U.S. District Judge Anita Brody of Eastern Pennsylvania and for appeals Judge Julio Fuentes of the 3rd Circuit.

Her father was a radio communications consultant helping public safety agencies integrate their radio systems, and her mother worked as a customer service manager for the U.S. Postal Service, according to Pérez’s wedding announcement in The New York Times in 2007. Her parents immigrated from Mexico, according to an Alliance for Justice report.

Latino groups urged Biden and the Senate to ramp up Latino appointments to the federal courts.

“The two additional Second Circuit seats that recently opened up present another opportunity to do just that,” stated Nil Sanchez, director of Latinos for a Fair Judiciary.

Thomas Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Latino Defense and Educational Fund, said the fact that she’ll be the only active Latino judge on the Second Circuit “indicates the need for accelerated and prioritized efforts” to increase the number of Latino federal judges.

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