WASHINGTON - A Georgia judge nominated by President Barack Obama to sit on the federal appeals court in Atlanta won support from key Republican senators Wednesday despite some criticism over her decision to shorten a sentence in a child sex abuse case last year.
U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Martin would serve on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears federal appeals from Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Georgia's two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, said at a Judiciary Committee hearing that they strongly support her nomination and that she comes highly recommended from the state's legal community.
Two other Republicans on the panel questioned Martin's decision to cut 10 years off what would have been a 30-year mandatory sentence for a Texas man convicted of crossing state lines with plans to have sex with a 10-year-old girl.
But they said they liked her overall record and were inclined to support her nomination.
In September, Martin ruled that the 30-year sentence against Kelly Farley was unconstitutional because it was disproportionately severe compared with sentences for other crimes. In February, nine House Republicans filed a brief in an appeal challenging the decision, saying her decision showed a lack of respect for Congress' authority to establish mandatory sentences.
Martin, a Macon native and former federal prosecutor, told lawmakers Wednesday she decided to cut the sentence after applying a constitutionality test prescribed by the Supreme Court and comparing the prison term with sentences for other crimes. She noted, for example, that crossing state lines with intent to commit murder gets only 10 years, and that Farley was arrested in an FBI sting before committing any actual sex crimes.
"I couldn't find the words to say that it was not disproportionate," Martin told the lawmakers, adding, "I sentenced him to 20 years. I didn't just let him go home."
Sens. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Orrin Hatch of Utah said they were concerned by Martin's willingness to disregard congressional intent. But Sessions, the top Republican on the panel, agreed that 20 years was a heavy sentence and said he is "very positively disposed" toward her nomination. Hatch said he plans to support her.
Martin has been on the district court bench since 2000, when she was appointed by President Bill Clinton.
If confirmed by the Senate, she would fill a spot on the 12-member appeals court left by Judge R. Lanier Anderson III, who went into semi-retirement Feb. 1.
"She's tough but she's fair, and that's what I hear from lawyers who practice before her on a regular basis," Chambliss told the committee. "She is an excellent judge."