Judge Judith Merrick’s role as a judge of the D.C. Circuit is growing increasingly important to the Supreme Court, as her nomination for a federal appeals court seat in Washington is being scrutinized by the high court.
But the judge has also become a target of conservatives who want to see her blocked from hearing cases, citing her past support for President Donald Trump.
Merrick has faced criticism from some members of the GOP over her vote to grant Trump his travel ban and support for the Trump Justice Department, including a recent tweet by Trump critic Ted Cruz that called her a “slut.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on Merrick, but the panel is already hearing its own confirmation hearing.
That hearing, which will take place on Tuesday, is expected to focus on Merricks decision in the death penalty case of Gregory Lee Hicks, a Georgia man who died in prison after a botched execution.
The panel is expected ask Merrick about a letter she wrote to then-President George W. Bush in 2003 that criticized Bush’s immigration policies.
Merricks office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.
In the letter, Merrick wrote that she believed that “[b]ecause the death sentences for illegal immigrants were reversed and because the death sentence for violent criminals was lowered, the United States is no longer the nation that it once was, and therefore, the President’s ‘greatest and most important national security policy should be reversed.'”
The committee has also scheduled a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the case of Andrew Thomas, a Florida man convicted of killing his girlfriend and attempting to kill her before a judge could sentence him to death.
Thomas’ attorneys say he was being punished for killing his ex-girlfriend in an attempted rape.
Merrick, who is currently on vacation, said in her letter that she believes the death of a person is a “serious crime” and that “there is a difference between a criminal act and a crime of passion.”
In the 2003 letter, she wrote that while she does not support Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries, she does think “that the death penalties were never intended to be used to execute people for crimes against the United State, and that they should not be used against a man whose life is not in imminent danger.
I think that the use of capital punishment is a serious matter and I am concerned that the death sentencing laws were not put in place to apply capital punishment in the specific circumstances of Andrew’s case.”
But Merrick is also expected to raise the issue of Trump’s use of the death-penalty system against people convicted of violent crimes.
In response to a question from Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Merrick said that she supports the death in a case like Hicks’.
“I think capital punishment should be reserved for the worst offenders,” Merrick told McCaskills.
“And I think it should be used sparingly.
I think that’s what I believe in, but I also think it’s a matter of public safety and fairness.”
Sen. Chris Coons (D–Del.) also asked Merrick to comment on Trump’s recent statements that he wants to see the death punishment of people convicted in non-fatal sexual assaults and homicides.
The Trump administration has defended its death-sentencing policies against criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, which said it was “not true” that people convicted under these policies were “in danger of being executed” and also pointed out that “the president is right” to focus attention on death sentences in certain circumstances.
“Judges have a responsibility to the law and to the constitution, but that does not mean they should defer to the president’s personal beliefs about this issue,” Coons said in a statement.
“It’s time for the Senate to hear from Justice Merrick as the confirmation hearing begins.
We need to know whether Merrick supports the President, and if she does, she should be on the committee’s side.
The nomination of Merrick comes as the Supreme