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Senate weighs state Supreme Court justice’s federal court nomination

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WASHINGTON – Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Hurwitz was subjected to only a few light questions Thursday as the Senate Judiciary Committee considered his nomination to a seat on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“It is very easy to see, and it is obvious to those of us who have been in Arizona a long time, why Justice Hurwitz was awarded the (Arizona Bar Association’s) highest rating,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R–Ariz., a committee member who introduced Hurwitz by touting his long list of legal accomplishments.

Kyl and Sen. Dick Durbin, D–Ill., were the only committee members at the hearing.

Durbin peppered Hurwitz with a few questions on his resume, asking him to comment on Ring v. Arizona, a case Hurwitz successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2002. In that case, the court ruled that only juries, not a judge, could decide to impose the death penalty on Arizona convicts.

Hurwitz argued the case against then–Arizona Attorney General Janet Napolitano, an encounter that did not keep her from nominating him to Arizona’s highest court when she became governor.

“When I was appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court, then–Gov. Napolitano said she did this so she wouldn’t have to argue against me ever again,” Hurwitz said to laughs.

Kyl commended Hurwitz, a registered Democrat, on his ability to put personal convictions aside when deciding cases.

“He has been quite successful in a very difficult job of separating political views from the job at hand,” Kyl said.

Hurwitz, a one–time chief of staff to former Arizona Govs. Bruce Babbitt and Rose Mofford, has been a state Supreme Court justice since 2003. He was nominated to the federal appeals court by President Barack Obama in November.

Hurwitz clerked for former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart and has practiced law in Arizona since 1974. He has long been an adjunct professor at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and was a member of the Arizona Board of Regents from 1988 to 1996.

William Maledon, a senior partner at the Phoenix-based law firm Osborn Maledon, said Hurwitz’s service on the Arizona Supreme Court makes him a well–qualified nominee for the federal appeals court. Maledon, who said he worked with Hurwitz for about 25 years, said the support he has received from both political parties is not surprising.

“I think that everybody that knows him and looks at his record recognizes that he is just very good,” Maledon said. “He is an exceptional person, an exceptional lawyer and an exceptional judge.”

Hurwitz’s nomination hearing lasted about 30 minutes. If approved, he will fill the seat left vacant by Judge Mary Schroeder, who retired at the start of the year.

Sen. John McCain. R–Ariz., could not be at the hearing, but Kyl expressed McCain’s support of Hurwitz’s nomination on his behalf.

“I’m gratified that my home–state senators have supported this nomination,” Hurwitz said after the hearing. “I thought all the questions were appropriate and I hope my answers were.”