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NM attorney sails through Senate confirmation for Court of Appeals

Joel M. Carson III

WASHINGTON – Roswell lawyer Joel Carson – nominated by President Donald Trump for a lifetime appointment to the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals – sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday with a glowing introduction from New Mexico’s senior senator and friendly questioning from the panel.

Carson would replace Paul J. Kelly Jr., who plans to take a more limited, senior status on the court if Carson is confirmed. Carson, 46, is a principal at Carson Ryan LLC, a Carlsbad-based law firm specializing in oil and gas law, regulatory issues, litigation and appellate cases. He has also served as a part-time magistrate judge since 2015.

Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat and former state attorney general, praised Carson during his introduction of the nominee on Wednesday.

“There is little doubt he has the legal expertise to be a good judge, as had been shown from his well-qualified (rating) from the ABA,” Udall told the Senate Judiciary Committee, citing letters he received from Carson’s colleagues who said he has demonstrated “character, integrity, compassion, fair-mindedness … and respect for opposing points of view.”

“All of these qualities will serve him well on the district court,” said Udall, whose office said he intends to vote in support of Carson’s nomination.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., was noncommittal on Carson’s nomination. Heinrich spokeswoman Whitney Potter told the Journal in December that the senator “hopes to be able to support his confirmation.” She said the senator’s position “remains the same” on Wednesday.

In his questioning of Carson at Wednesday’s committee hearing, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., noted that black people get the death penalty as punishment for severe crime more often than white people. He asked if Carson thinks there is “implicit racial bias” in the criminal justice system.

“I absolutely recognize that racism is a problem in this country,” Carson said, adding that he would be “on guard for it in our courts.”

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor, who closely tracks judicial nominations said that Carson’s hearing went well and that Udall’s laudatory introduction should help him secure Democratic votes.

“Carson appeared to be well-prepared and his answers were careful,” Tobias said. “Moreover, he has much practice experience in energy and environmental areas, which are important for service on the 10th Circuit.”

Carson earned his law degree at the University of New Mexico. He has been active in New Mexico’s Republican Party over the years serving both as secretary and on the state party’s executive committee.

The 10th Circuit hears appeals from New Mexico, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Montana and Idaho. In addition to Kelly, Judge Harris Hartz of Albuquerque sits on the court now, as does senior Judge Bobby Baldock of Roswell.