President Joe Biden's nomination of Ayer District Court Justice Margaret R. Guzman to the federal bench is drawing praise in the legal community.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Guzman would become the first Hispanic judge to serve the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, according to a White House release.
Her appointment would fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Timothy S. Hillman.
Guzman is long-time former public defender who served a stint in private practice before becoming a judge. She served on the bench of the Dudley District Court before taking her current role on the Ayer District Court in 2017.
Guzman, through a court clerk, declined to comment for this story, but her nomination has drawn praise from those who know her professionally.
“Judge Guzman has stood next to those who have the least and are facing the full power of the government,” said Anthony Benedetti, Chief Counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, in a statement. Guzman got her start in the legal field working with the organization.
“She has also served as a judge in our District Courts and seen firsthand the serious challenges people face who get caught up in the system,” Benedetti added. “She will bring intelligence, perspective and compassion to the federal judiciary, and we applaud this administration for recognizing public defenders as candidates for all levels of the federal judiciary and congratulate Judge Guzman on her nomination.”
Ruth Deras, a mentee of Guzman’s, said the judge is “precisely” the type of person needed in roles at the federal judicial government because of her background as a public defender.
“To see that we have a candidate who is not only well-rounded, but who is committed, not only to social justice, but most importantly to the administration of the rule of law, it’s just such an immense pride for us as Hispanic and Latinos — knowing that one of our own is actually being distinguished and considered for this very important post,” Deras said.
“And the fact that she’s going to be the first Latina to serve in that capacity makes it even more sweeter,” she added.
Deras, who is Latina, is a member and former president of the Massachusetts Association of Hispanic Attorneys. She said Guzman’s identity and professional background as a public defender would add a unique perspective to the federal bench.
“A lot of the appointments we’ve seen, particularly at the federal level are individuals who, while they may be very smart [and] while they may be highly distinguished in their respective areas of law, there is often times a disconnect with the communities that are the recipients of negative implications [of federal decisions],” Deras said.
Judicial diversity is a topic that has emerged as a flashpoint in recent debates about the value of having a range of backgrounds and perspectives on the federal bench.
Former President Donald Trump explicitly vowed to appoint “pro-life judges,” a pursuit that eventually yielded the overturning of Roe v. Wade in June. All three of his U.S. Supreme Court nominees, two men and one woman, were white.
Biden, in his 2020 campaign to replace Trump, promised and succeeded in naming a Black woman to the Supreme Court, causing controversy when some labeled the move as a play of identity politics without regard for qualifications.
Isaac Borenstein, a retired Superior Court judge and lecturer at Boston University’s School of Law predicted that Guzman is likely to encounter resistance when she goes before the Senate for confirmation.
“When we live in a country with a history of white supremacy to the present, there are going to be people who view anything and anyone different than being a white cultural, personal and professional background as not being as qualified,” he told GBH News.
Borenstein, who is Cuban-born, said Guzman appeared in front of him regularly as a public defender when he served on the trial court.
“She was an impressive lawyer,” he said. “Very articulate, well-prepared, thoughtful, ethical — somebody that we could all rely on for her word.
“I’m sure she’ll make it,” he said of Guzman. “If the [Senate] vote on her is about somebody being qualified, she should make it without any problem."