Dale Ho seems to know his bid to become a federal district judge based in New York City faces fierce resistance.
At his confirmation hearing last Wednesday to be a judge in the Southern District of New York, President Joe Biden's nominee said he regretted his "overheated rhetoric" on social media regarding his signature issue of voting rights and other matters.
“I know that I’ve crossed the line from time to time,” said Ho, who currently works as director of the Voting Rights Project for the American Civil Liberties Union. “I regret it because I think it’s contributed to the coarseness of our discourse overall.”
Whether that level of contrition is enough to get Ho confirmed in the 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking a tie in Democrats' favor, is an open question. But it's proving to be among the toughest judicial nominations yet for the nearly year-old Biden administration.
The president, who was Senate Judiciary Committee chairman in the middle period of his 36-year Senate career representing Delaware, has made confirmation of federal judges a top priority. It's no small part in his effort to reverse the conservative lean of the bench after former President Donald Trump, aided by then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, created an efficient confirmation machine.
Ho's disclaimers about past tweets and public comments are unlikely to quell Republican senators' concerns that a 44-year-old alumnus of Princeton and Yale Law School could serve impartially as a judge in the Southern District of New York.
“Mr. Ho, you’re a smart man, I can tell,” said Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican. “But I think you’re an angry man. And I really have great concerns about voting for you. We don’t need federal judges who are angry. We need federal judges who are fair and can see both points of view.”
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz also subjected Ho to scrutiny and labeled him an "extreme partisan." For the past 18 months, the Texas senator said, "You have engaged in partisan attacks on multiple members of this committee." Cruz cited "tweeted attacks" against several of his conservative colleagues, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, John Cornyn of Texas, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, and Mike Lee of Utah.
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"You yourself have described yourself as ‘a wild-eyed Leftist.’ Further, as someone ‘accused sometimes of seeing discrimination everywhere you look.’ Is that right?” Cruz asked Ho.
"[The] keyword in that quote is ‘accused,’” Ho replied. "I was characterizing how others have caricatured myself.”
Ho testified on Wednesday he would separate himself from advocacy roles and, if confirmed, serve "as a fair, neutral, impartial arbiter of the law."
Ho's Twitter account has since been locked following Wednesday's hearing.
Democrats, including Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, have championed Ho. Schumer, a New York Democrat, introduced Ho at Wednesday's hearing as an “esteemed litigator and one of the foremost election lawyers in the country.”
So far, the Senate has confirmed 19 federal district judges and nine appellate judges under the Biden administration, which has lauded its nominees as having a personal and professional diversity not seen by past presidential appointments. If confirmed, Ho would become the second active Asian American judge on the Southern District court.
"The country isn't all corporate lawyers and prosecutors," Schumer said. "It has many other people in the legal profession, and now we're beginning to see them on the bench in much greater numbers."
Conservative advocacy groups have also fought hard to oppose Ho's confirmation. The Judicial Crisis Network said it would spend $300,000 on a cable and digital ad campaign to label the ACLU litigator as a “career puppet for left-wing, dark-money groups.”
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During former President Donald Trump's administration, Ho argued in court against efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants when determining representatives for each state and proposals to include a citizenship question on the 2020 census. The lawyer formerly was assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 2009 to 2013 and is widely published on redistricting and voting rights in law reviews.
The Washington Examiner contacted the ACLU and the JCN but did not receive a response.