By Andrew Goudsward
(Reuters) – Vice President Kamala Harris broke a deadlock in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday to secure confirmation for a civil rights lawyer nominated to be a federal judge in New York.
Natasha Merle, who works on litigation for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, was confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, which is based in Brooklyn.
The final vote was 50-49, but Harris was needed to break a 50-50 tie in an earlier procedural vote on the nomination.
Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, joined all Republicans in opposing Merle. The vote marked the fourth time in recent weeks that Manchin has opposed one of President Joe Biden’s judicial picks.
Merle is the 100th district court nominee selected by Biden to secure Senate confirmation and is the latest in a string of civil rights lawyers to be confirmed to the federal bench this month.
Ahead of the vote, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat who recommended Merle, called her a “deeply experienced litigator” who would bring a “crucial and unique perspective” to the federal bench.
Merle faced opposition from Republicans for remarks she made on a podcast in 2017 during which she said it was inconsistent for politicians to denounce white supremacy while supporting Republican-backed policies such as state laws imposing stricter voter identification requirements.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell criticized Merle on the Senate floor on Tuesday as “an activist lawyer with a penchant for staking out extreme and inflammatory positions.” McConnell cited Merle’s comments on voter ID laws, which he called “common sense election integrity measures,” but which have faced criticism for disproportionately impacting minority voters.
Merle has worked at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund since 2016. She previously served as a federal public defender in New York and worked on a fellowship for a New York law firm.
(Reporting by Andrew Goudsward)
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