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Panel advances Obama nominee for federal bench in N.H. to full Senate

Landya McCafferty is one step closer to becoming a U.S. District Court judge in New Hampshire.

President Obama in May nominated McCafferty, a Portsmouth resident who since 2010 has been a federal magistrate judge in Concord, for the seat vacated by U.S. District Judge Steven McAuliffe of Concord. McAuliffe took senior status – a form of semi-retirement – in April.

She must be confirmed for the lifetime appointment by the U.S. Senate. Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent her nomination and three others to the floor on a unanimous voice vote.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat and chairman of the committee, said there was “no controversy” about the four proposed district court judges.

“No controversy,” agreed Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the panel.

A vote by the full Senate to confirm McCafferty hasn’t been scheduled, but could come in October or November, predicted Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who studies federal judicial selection.

“It’s clear there’s just no controversy, and I think the members of the committee feel confident that McCafferty will be fine,” Tobias said. “Her hearing went smoothly . . . and there was no discussion today of her or the other three district court nominees. So I think they’re fine.”

Yesterday’s vote was welcomed by both of New Hampshire’s U.S. senators.

“Landya is an incredibly qualified and accomplished individual and the unanimous support she received today is a recognition of her strong credentials. I was proud to recommend Landya to the president and I’m looking forward to supporting what should rightfully be a swift confirmation vote in the full Senate,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat, in a statement.

“Judge McCafferty is well-respected in New Hampshire and well-qualified to serve on the federal bench. I’m pleased that the Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to advance her nomination, and I look forward to voting for her confirmation when it reaches the full Senate,” said Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican, in a statement. “I hope Senate leadership will move quickly to bring Judge McCafferty’s nomination to a final vote.”

There are three seats for active judges on the U.S. District Court for New Hampshire. Paul Barbadoro has served on the court since 1992 and Joseph Laplante, the current chief judge, was confirmed by the Senate in late 2007.

McCafferty, if confirmed, would be the third, and the first woman to serve in the job.

Before becoming a magistrate judge, McCafferty worked in New Hampshire’s Attorney Discipline Office from 2003 to 2010 and was a public defender from 1995 to 2003.

After graduating from Harvard University in 1984, she worked at St. Paul’s School in Concord for four years as a teacher and assistant director of admissions. She then attended Northeastern University School of Law, graduating in 1991.

So far, at least, McCafferty has moved through the confirmation process at a steady pace. She was nominated May 23 and the Senate Judiciary Committee held an initial hearing July 24 – 62 days later, less than the average of 80.2 days for district court nominees during Obama’s first term, according to the Congressional Research Service.

On average, Obama’s nominees for district court judgeships in his first term waited 221.8 days between nomination and confirmation, according to the service.

The other three nominees sent to the Senate floor yesterday were Brian Morris of Montana, Susan Watters of Montana and Jeffrey Meyer of Connecticut.

(Ben Leubsdorf can be reached at 369-3307 or or on Twitter @BenLeubsdorf.)

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