Virginia's Democratic senators will recommend two candidates to the White House for an open federal judgeship in Alexandria: State Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston Jr. and Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Giles.
The nominee chosen by President Trump will replace U.S. District Judge Gerald Bruce Lee, 65, who retired this fall after two decades on the bench. A champion for diversity, Lee worked to help nonwhite law students find footholds at elite levels of the legal profession.
"While presiding over a court with one of the busiest dockets in the country, Judge Lee tirelessly mentored youths in the community and fostered the careers of generations of lawyers from the minority Bar," wrote Sens. Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner. "Consistent with these values, we believe both Ms. Giles and Judge Alston would continue Judge Lee's legacy."
Giles is a longtime prosecutor in the Eastern District who has helped put members of the gang MS-13 behind bars for murder and sex trafficking, including in a 2005 case involving the death of a 17-year-old pregnant federal witness. Giles began her career as a clerk for Lee.
Alston previously served as a Circuit Court and Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court judge in Prince William County. He also worked at the National Labor Relations Board under President Ronald Reagan and at the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, as well as in private practice.
Virginia Republicans tried unsuccessfully to elevate Alston to the state Supreme Court last year to thwart Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who had appointed another candidate.
Like Lee, Alston and Giles are African American and active in a camp Lee helps lead that introduces at-risk boys to the legal system.
The two were among six candidates interviewed by the two senators after recommendations from a committee of lawyers. The others were corporate attorney George Doumar, Assistant U.S Attorney Jay Prabhu and U.S. Magistrate judges Lawrence Leonard and David Novak.
The next judge will sit in one of the busiest courtrooms in the country, where high-profile national security and public corruption cases are often tried.
Trump's judicial nominees have tended to be young and conservative. Nineteen of his 59 nominees for the federal judiciary have been confirmed, including six district court judges. But the collapse of three nominees in the past week has led to increased scrutiny of the White House's choices.
Senators can traditionally hold up a federal court nomination in their state by refusing to sign a "blue slip" of support to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Chairman Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has begun ignoring blue slips for appeals court nominees but has thus far indicated that he will respect them at the district court level.