Adalberto Jordan, a federal appeals court judge twice confirmed by the U.S. Senate, could become the Supreme Court’s first Cuban-American justice if nominated by President Barack Obama and approved once again.
Jordan, 54, is one of a number of potential nominees to replace Justice Antonin Scalia, who died last month. Obama has vowed to nominate a successor, but Senate Republicans say they will withhold approval in hopes that a new Republican president can pick the next justice.
Born in Havana shortly after the communist revolution led by Fidel Castro, Jordan emigrated to the U.S. with his family as a small boy, along with thousands of other Cuban exiles. He attended a Catholic high school in Miami and got both his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Miami.
Jordan, who goes by “Bert,” has served as a federal prosecutor, a U.S. district judge appointed by President Bill Clinton and has sat on the generally conservative 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 2012 — the first Cuban-American to do so. He also clerked for former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and was in private practice for five years.
The Senate confirmed him to the Atlanta-based appeals court by a 94-5 vote.
During his confirmation hearings, Jordan was asked by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, about his views on the impartiality of judges and whether there was any place for personal or political viewpoints in their rulings.
“We are all human beings, of course, but I think as a judge you need to try and strive very, very hard to make sure you are deciding the case on something other than your own preferences and views, whatever those might be,” Jordan replied. “So I have strived and I hope I have achieved impartiality in my years on the bench in Miami.”
As a district judge, Jordan presided over a number of high-profile cases, including the convictions of brothers Hector and Eduardo Orlansky in a $164 million bank fraud case in which he sentenced both to 20 years behind bars. Jordan also awarded a group of Liberians $22 million in damages after they sued under a U.S. anti-torture law as victims of atrocities under former Liberian President Charles Taylor.
On the 11th Circuit, Jordan wrote an opinion concluding that black children in Alabama had no legal standing to sue over whether the state’s property tax provisions prevented predominantly black school districts from raising money. Jordan wrote that “no matter how noble the cause” the courts were not always the proper forum to win relief.
Jordan has also dissented in notable cases, including one in which the 11th Circuit majority voted to allow execution of a female Georgia death row inmate despite questions about whether a certain drug was causing botched executions.
Dennis Kainen, a Miami defense attorney and former federal public defender, said Jordan is among the most even-handed of judges he has worked with. One example, Kainen said, is that Jordan would usually address criminal defendants by their names rather than referring to them as simply, “the defendant.”
“He has a perfect demeanor. There’s no arrogance. There’s no ego,” Kainen said. “I think he would be wonderful for the (Supreme Court). I’ve never heard anything negative about Judge Jordan’s temperament or demeanor.”
If he were to join the court, he would add to a Catholic majority on a bench made up only of Catholics and Jews.
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