Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) plans to meet again with a judicial nominee he has been blocking, after news reports have called into question his reason for holding up the nomination.
Menendez has said he opposed the nomination of Patty Shwartz to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after meeting her in August when he asked her about issues he felt appellate judges should know, such as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling.
But the New Jersey Democrat has taken heat in recent days for the decision to hold up Shwartz because some have charged that his opposition may have more to do with retaliation. Shwartz is romantically linked to Jim Nobile, who led a federal corruption investigation against Menendez. Democrats have argued the probe was politically motivated. No charges were ever brought, and the five-year probe was ended in October.
Menendez’s office has dismissed the idea and said his concern over the nomination stems strictly from Shwartz’s qualifications.
Menendez agreed to a second meeting after receiving a letter from Shwartz on Wednesday evening requesting it, Menendez’s office said.
“The Senator [is] looking forward to the opportunity to meet with her again,” a spokeswoman in his office said.
The topic of the Citizens United ruling is likely to come up again in the second meeting. Democrats and Menendez, who served as Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman for the last election cycle, see the Citizens United ruling as one of the defining issues of the 2012 elections and have pushed to pass legislation to overturn the decision.
Under the high court’s Citizens United ruling, corporations were declared to be citizens, giving them the right to spend unlimited funds on elections and calling that spending an expression of their free-speech rights.
In July, Menendez and four other Democratic Senators introduced legislation that would require that a majority of shareholders must vote to approve a company’s political spending.
He felt Shwartz’s answers in the initial interview were unsatisfactory and did not give his assent to her nomination, his office said. The move is the first time a Democrat has blocked one of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees.
The American Bar Association has given Shwartz a “unanimously well qualified” rating, and the White House is sticking by its choice.
“We obviously want to see all of the president’s nominees considered in a timely manner,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday. “And we would like this nominee also to be considered in a timely manner.
“Whatever obstacles are presented by Members of the Senate to nominees, we are always disheartened by those,” Carney continued. “The president’s put forward very qualified nominees, including [Shwartz], and they ought to be considered on the merits.”