The U.S. Senate voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to confirm Salvador Mendoza Jr. as the first Hispanic federal judge to serve the Eastern District of Washington.
Mr. Medonza, a Benton-Franklin Superior Court judge, was confirmed by a 92-4 vote with Democratic Sen. Patty Murray leading the support for the Tri-Cities lawyer and community activist.
"It's not every day that I get to support a nominee who also happens to be a former intern in my Senate office," Ms. Murray said during her speech on the Senate floor. "But it's also not every day that a man who is the son of migrant farm workers and himself worked on farms in the Yakima Valley, is called on by the President of the United States to become the very first Latino federal judge in the Eastern District of Washington."
President Obama nominated Mr. Mendoza in January for the federal judgeship to replace the seat vacated by Judge Lonny R. Suko. Mr. Mendoza now awaits his judicial commission.
Mr. Mendoza, 43, earned his law degree from UCLA School of Law and worked as a prosecutor for more than a decade before moving over to criminal defense. While working as a criminal defense attorney, Mr. Mendoza served as a Judge pro tempore before he was named a Super Court Judge for Benton and Franklin counties in 2013.
He was responsible for establishing the first drug court for Benton and Franklin counties. Mr. Mendoza is also active in the community, organizing the annual Tri-City Youth and Justice Conference and having served as a trustee at Columbia Basin College.
Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell also lent her support to Mr. Mendoza, who she first met a few years ago at a roundtable of Latino community leaders in the Tri-Cities area.
"There is no question that Salvador Mendoza is ready for the challenge of being a federal judge, but I also want to speak today in terms of the historic nature of this vote," the Democratic Senator said in her remarks to the Senate. "Salvador Mendoza will become the first-ever Hispanic federal judge in Eastern Washington. That is a major step forward and one that is long overdue.
"One in every nine residents of Washington state is Hispanic and yet we have not had a Hispanic federal judge in the Eastern part of our state. Judge Mendoza is the right man for the job and he's ready to make history."
Four Republican Senators voted against Mr. Mendoza's nomination, two of which were from the Pacific Northwest. U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo voted no along with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri. Appointments to federal judgeships, which require Senate approval, are lifetime unless the judge resigns or is removed from office.
According to the White House, President Obama has appointed 31 Hispanics to federal judgeships, the most of any president. President George W. Bush held the previous marking by appointing 30 Hispanics to become judges.
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