SANTA FE – Las Cruces-based defense and civil rights attorney Margaret Strickland was confirmed Tuesday by the U.S. Senate to serve as a federal judge in New Mexico, where two prior nominees from former President Donald Trump were sidelined in the runup to the 2020 election.
Strickland was among President Joe Biden’s first slate of nominees to the federal bench announced in March. She was confirmed Tuesday by a 52-45 vote of the Senate, including supportive votes by Democratic Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján.
Prior nominations by Trump to fill two vacancies on the U.S. District Court in New Mexico were put on hold in September 2020 by Heinrich and Sen. Tom Udall, Luján’s predecessor. They said Trump had politicized the judicial nominations process blatantly as a tool for campaigning shortly before the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and deferred the vetting process until after the 2020 election.
Heinrich praised Strickland for her familiarity with the Southwest region along the U.S. border with Mexico and her work ethic.
The New Mexico U.S. District Court has relied on visiting judges to relieve pressure on its robust dockets of immigration and drug trafficking cases.
Republican Judge Kea W. Riggs filled a vacancy on the local U.S. District Court in 2019, and Trump also opened the way in 2017 for former Roswell-based attorney Joel Carson to join the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals to take the place of Paul Joseph Kelly.
Strickland takes on the lifetime judicial appointment at age 41. She started her career at the Law Offices of the Public Defender for the state of New Mexico, from 2006 through 2011. She continued her career as a partner at McGraw & Strickland, representing more than 70 clients at trial and arguing before the state Supreme Court.
Among civil rights claims, Strickland represented Jillian and Andrew Beck in a lawsuit against two Las Cruces police officers on allegations of brutality and civil rights violations. The couple prevailed in a jury trial and received a $1.4 million settlement award in 2018.
Luján said that Strickland brings professional diversity to the federal courts as a former public defender.