WASHINGTON — More than a year after President Barack Obama nominated S.C. Judge Alison Renee Lee to a federal post, congressional concerns over her judicial record apparently have stymied the at-large circuit judge’s chances of making it through Congress.
South Carolina’s junior U.S. senator, Republican Tim Scott of Charleston, is the most recent lawmaker to voice concerns over the nomination, saying he won’t support Lee’s rise to a federal judgeship.
“Sen. Scott continues to have significant concerns about Judge Lee and her time as a South Carolina circuit court judge,” Scott’s office said last week. “After serious consideration and a thorough evaluation of all the available information, Sen. Scott will not support her nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. As vacancies on South Carolina courts occur, he plans to work with the White House and Sen. Graham to ensure that they are filled.”
Scott’s decision not to support Lee’s nomination effectively might thwart almost any chance that the Tulane Law School grad has of making it through the congressional nomination process. While several lawmakers have questioned Lee’s judicial competence, the opposition of Scott – one of Lee’s home state senators – would carry extra weight because of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s “blue slip” process.
The blue-slip process is an informal practice exclusive to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee. When considering judicial nominations, the committee asks the nominee’s home-state senators to take positions – pro or con – on those nominated on a blue slip.
The support of home-state senators isn’t a requirement for a nominee to make it through the Judiciary panel. However, Scott’s position doesn’t bode well for Lee’s chances.
Scott also isn’t Lee’s only home state hurdle: U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Scott’s fellow S.C. Republican and a Judiciary Committee heavy-hitter, raised an alarm over Lee’s judicial record after she was nominated in June 2013.
While Graham hasn’t formally said he’ll oppose Lee’s nomination, he has suggested serious questions surround her judicial track record.
“I appreciate her willingness to serve,” Graham said Thursday. “However, given the outcomes of some of her cases in the criminal arena, her confirmation would have been a difficult sell.”
The concerns about Lee’s time as a circuit judge center on two cases in particular.
In January 2013, Lee lowered the bond of Columbia-area burglary suspect Lorenzo Young, who subsequently was released. Young then was charged in the killing last July of a 33-year-old Columbia woman, Kelly Hunnewell.
In addition, The State newspaper reported that, just a month after lowering the bond for Young, Lee did the same for 18-year-old Dequan Vereen, who was facing charges of attempted murder and armed robbery.
After being released from jail, Vereen later was charged with the slaying last September of a Richland County man.
Lee’s nomination was received in the Senate and referred to the Judiciary Committee in January. There have been no new actions listed on her nomination since.