WASHINGTON — Salvador Mendoza, Jr., who could become the first Latino federal judge in Eastern Washington, got his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday.
Mendoza’s appearance came just two months after he was nominated by President Obama to U.S. District Judge for the Eastern District of Washington and four months after Senate Democrats took a landmark vote to curb Republicans’ filibuster of judicial nominations.
Mendoza was one of four judicial nominees to testify before the committee. Leon Rodriguez, nominee to be director of Department of Homeland Security, also appeared.
Sen. Patty Murray introduced Mendoza as a role model whose rise from a humble background “represents the very best of our state’s honest, hard-working spirit.”
Mendoza, 42, is now a Superior Court judge for Benton and Franklin counties. Gov. Jay Inslee swore Mendoza into that post last May.
Mendoza grew up in farm community of Prosser and speaks Spanish. He graduated from the University of Washington in 1994 and earned a law degree from UCLA in 1997. He helped start a juvenile drug-court program in the Tri-Cities area.
Mendoza has worked as a deputy prosecutor, defense attorney and a judge. His experience with both criminal and civil cases would be valuable for a federal judge, Mendoza told the committee.
The committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the nominations.
The full Senate, which votes on final confirmations, has been busy whittling down a backlog of judicial nominations since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid deployed the “nuclear option” to limit the minority party’s ability to filibuster most presidential nominations.
The Senate can now cut off debate on executive and judicial nominations with a simple majority instead of the filibuster-proof 60 votes. That cleared the way for Senate Democrats to confirm three district court judges on Feb. 25 and four more on March 5.
Mendoza’s fellow nominee for another District Court Judge for Eastern Washington, Stanley Allen Bastian, is awaiting a Senate confirmation. Bastian was nominated last September and had his confirmation hearing in November.
Bastian is managing partner of the Wenatchee law firm of Jeffers, Danielson, Sonn & Aylward. He primarily handles civil employment cases. He served as Assistant Seattle City Attorney from 1985 to 1988, where he prosecuted criminal cases.
Bastian would assume seat vacated by Judge Edward F. Shea; Mendoza would replace Judge Lonny R. Suko. Shea and Suko both took senior status, reducing their workloads.
Another nomination, Jill Pryor of Atlanta for a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, has been awaiting action by the full Senate for two years.