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Senate confirms Arianna Freeman to US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the first woman of color to join that bench

Freeman, of Philadelphia, was confirmed in a 50-47 vote that broke strictly along party lines. The vote came about two weeks after an initial attempt failed, when two Democrats were absent.

Arianna Freeman will be the first woman of color to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after she was confirmed by the Senate.
Arianna Freeman will be the first woman of color to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit after she was confirmed by the Senate.Read moreFederal Community Defender for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The U.S. Senate on Thursday confirmed public defender Arianna Freeman to the federal appeals court based in Philadelphia, making her the first woman of color who will sit on that bench.

Freeman, of Philadelphia, was confirmed in a 50-47 vote that broke strictly along party lines. Three Republicans didn’t vote on her nomination.

The vote came about two weeks after the initial confirmation attempt failed when two Democrats were absent.

Freeman will now join the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which handles cases involving Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and the Virgin Islands. She will be the third woman actively serving on the circuit.

“I have no doubt that the breadth of Ms. Freeman’s legal experience and her deep commitment to the community and to the principles of fairness and equal justice will serve the Third Circuit well,” Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said in a statement. “While we have a long way to go to make our institutions fully reflect our diversity in Pennsylvania and across the nation, today, we took a significant step forward with Ms. Freeman’s confirmation.”

Freeman “brings ethnic, gender, ideological, and experiential diversity to the appeals court,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who closely tracks the federal judiciary.

Prosecutors have often been appointed to judicial posts, he added, but that has rarely been the case for defense attorneys. However, nine Biden-nominated appellate judges with a background in criminal defense have now been confirmed, Tobias said.

“It has traditionally been unusual before the Biden [administration] to confirm public defenders to the appeals courts,” Tobias said.

Freeman since 2016 has been a managing attorney with the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, also based in Philadelphia. She has worked in that office since 2009.

As managing attorney of an appellate unit, she led a team of lawyers representing federal inmates challenging the legality of their convictions and sentences.

Last year, their work led to the exoneration of Curtis Crosland, who served 34 years of a life sentence after he was convicted of the 1984 murder of a South Philadelphia shopkeeper based on the statements of only two witnesses, who either recanted or failed to appear in court.

Freeman graduated from Swarthmore College in 2001 and got her law degree from Yale Law School in 2007.

Separately Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee advanced several other nominees of President Joe Biden for federal judicial posts in the region.

The committee approved Cindy Chung, the U.S. attorney for Western Pennsylvania, for a spot on the Third Circuit in a 12-10 vote and Delaware State Supreme Court Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves for the Third Circuit, with a 13-9 split.

For seats on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania the committee advanced former interim Philadelphia District Attorney Kelley Hodge, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judges Mia Perez and Kai Scott, and intellectual property attorney Frank Murphy.

All of those nominees still require confirmation by the full Senate.

Staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported which court on which Freeman clerked earlier in her career. She had two clerkships with judges on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

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