Fresno Bee: Farmworkers’ daughter survives partisan Senate vote for a seat on the Ninth Circuit Court

By Juan Esparza Loera

Federal jurist Ana Isabel de Alba – who was elevated last year from the Fresno County Superior Court bench to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District Court of California – was confirmed to the Ninth District Court of Appeals Monday afternoon by the U.S. Senate.

De Alba, 44, was confirmed on a 48-43 vote that followed largely along partisan lines. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin was the lone Democrat to vote no during the vote that took almost 2 hours. There was no debate.

President Joe Biden nominated de Alba in April to the Ninth Circuit.

Praise for De Alba’s confirmation came from politicians, legal groups and others.

California Sen. Alex Padilla, who introduced de Alba twice to the Senate Judiciary Committee, said her path to confirmation “embodies the American Dream.”

“I was proud to recommend and confirm Judge de Alba as the first Latina to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, where she has more than proven herself as the public servant Americans deserve on the Ninth Circuit,” said Padilla in a press release.

Padilla called her “dedicated, fair, and universally respected by her colleagues.”

“As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, she brings vital and historically excluded perspectives to the Ninth Circuit – the kind of lived experience that helps to improve judicial decision-making and strengthens public trust in our courts,” said Lena Zwarensteyn of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in a statement.

Assemblymember Joaquín Arámbula, in a social media post, said de Alba’s “tenacity and experience will be an asset to the Ninth Circuit.”

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who studies the federal judicial system, expects de Alba to be sworn in within days or weeks.

“I think the Ninth Circuit has got another great judge to call on,” said Tobias. “She’ll be one of the youngest members of the court, so she’s got a long career head of her. She promises to be a great judge.”

Tobias said the close vote is reflective of today’s politics.

“There’s been more party line voting since the time she was confirmed for the district bench,” he said. “More and more Republicans are just voting no on Biden nominees.”

In May when Padilla introduced her to the Senate Judiciary Committee, he underscored the importance of having a federal judge like de Alba.

“We know it matters to have someone from a family of farmworkers – who watched her mother and grandmother struggle with unfair treatment – protecting a country of working families,” the Senator said.

Republicans questioned de Alba on rulings she made on the Eastern District Court regarding the removal of a monitoring device from a man who tried to help his brother escape after killing a Newman police officer in December 2018, and a lenient sentence given to a man convicted of receiving and distributing child pornography.

De Alba said she conferred with federal authorities and others in reaching her decisions. The monitoring device she had removed was one of two such devices, she said. In the second case, she handed down a 66-month sentence when guidelines called for 78 to 97 months.


De Alba, in a 2022 interview with Vida en el Valle, said she went into law after her mother and other women worked an entire summer without getting paid by a farmer who then declared bankruptcy. De Alba frequently talks about growing up poor, and using a sleeping bag until she got her own bed at age 15.

She recalled being in the fields at age 6 taking water to her mother and other workers.

The Senate backed de Alba’s confirmation to the Eastern District Court last year, when she was confirmed on a 53-45 vote. However, this year was different. De Alba survived vetting by the Senate Judiciary Committee in June on an 11-10 vote, and last Thursday’s cloture vote was 49-42 (eight of the nine Senators who did not vote were Republicans).

Tobias said he was “troubled a little bit” by the partisan vote in June.

“It looked like the Republicans hadn’t given a lot of thought and just did whatever (Sen. Lindsay) Graham said, which is not unusual,” said Tobias, who noted several Republicans voted by proxy.

The Ninth Circuit, which was created in 1898, is the largest in the nation. It covers nine states and two territories with 29 active judgeships. More than 1 in 5 Americans live in the court’s jurisdiction.

Gov. Jerry Brown nominated de Alba to the Fresno County bench in 2018. She had been a shareholder at Lang, Richert and Patch PC since 2013.

De Alba was an associate at that law firm from 2007 to 2013. De Alba, who has a daughter, earned her juris doctor degree from the UC Berkeley School of Law, and bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley.

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