Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, a federal prosecutor who has been nominated to a seat on the federal appeals court, will appear next week before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Puhl, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in January, is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday, June 21, to answer questions from committee members, a crucial step in the judicial nomination process.
Both Sens. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., support Puhl's nomination and will introduce her to the judiciary panel.
Heitkamp came out immediately in favor of Puhl when she was nominated in late January, but Hoeven told The Forum in the days after her nomination that he was still undecided. He eventually decided to back Puhl.
"(Hoeven) believes she's qualified and will be supporting her nomination," said the senator's spokesman, Don Canton, told The Forum earlier this week.
An assistant U.S. attorney in Fargo, Puhl is nominated to a seat on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in St. Louis but also hears cases in St. Paul. If confirmed, she would replace Judge Kermit Bye, who was appointed in 2000 by President Bill Clinton and took senior status earlier this year, meaning he handles a reduced caseload.
Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond, tracks federal judicial nominees and said the fact Puhl is scheduled to appear for a committee hearing is an encouraging sign—as is the fact that both of North Dakota's senators support her nomination.
"I expect she'll do well in the hearing," Tobias said, noting that an Obama nominee to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals received a favorable 13-7 committee vote on Thursday, June 16. Puhl is one of four judicial nominees slated to appear Tuesday before the committee, which vets all nominees before they can advance to the Senate floor.
"The question is whether they can get a floor vote," Tobias said.
Senate Republicans, who hold the majority and therefore control the Senate, have been slow to act on many of Obama's judicial appointees.
Tobias said he is "cautiously optimistic" of Puhl's chances of getting a vote from the full Senate.
Puhl has spent most of her legal career as a federal prosecutor, serving under two North Dakota U.S. attorneys, Republican Drew Wrigley and Democrat Tim Purdon. Both praised her abilities and dedication. She has prosecuted human traffickers and child abusers.
"The U.S. Senate has a duty to consider and vote on impeccable nominees like Jennifer," Heitkamp said in a statement. "It's my hope the committee quickly approves her nomination and sends it to the full Senate for confirmation, along with the dozens of other well-qualified judges needed to fill judicial vacancies throughout the country."