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Senate confirms Sinatra as federal judge; Gillibrand votes no

WASHINGTON – The Senate on Wednesday overwhelmingly confirmed Buffalo attorney John L. Sinatra Jr. to be a federal judge in the Western District of New York despite an unusual split on the nomination between the state's two U.S. senators.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer – who announced his backing of Sinatra, a Republican, in May 2018 – voted yes. But Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, like Schumer a Democrat, voted no.

The Senate voted 76-18 to approve the Sinatra nomination. All of the senators who opposed Sinatra's nomination were Democrats.

The vote means that within days, Sinatra will be able to take the full-time slot of U.S. District Court Judge William M. Skretny, who has moved to senior status.

Schumer agreed to Sinatra's nomination after the election of Donald Trump, a Republican, as president. That meant the judicial seat was likely to have to go to a Republican.

"John Sinatra Jr. has strong legal credentials, broad bipartisan support in Western New York and the respect of his hometown, Buffalo, where he was born, raised and educated," said Allison Biasotti, Schumer's spokeswoman. "His addition to the Western District federal bench will increase the productivity of that court and speed access to decisions for those seeking legal redress."

Gillibrand, in a statement, said she was concerned about the Sinatra nomination because of his membership in a conservative judicial group called the Federalist Society.

"As a member of the Federalist Society, Sinatra’s views are far outside the judicial mainstream and he has expressed pro-corporation views in the past," Gillibrand said. "The federal judiciary must be fair and impartial, and I have deep concerns that he would not represent the values of New York State.”

Sinatra's May 2018 nomination met with bipartisan praise in Buffalo's legal community.

The choice of Sinatra drew criticism from some Democrats because then-Rep. Chris Collins, a Republican who later resigned after pleading guilty to felony insider trading charges, advocated for his nomination. Collins is a business partner with Sinatra's brother, Buffalo real estate developer Nick Sinatra.

In addition, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposed Sinatra's nomination, saying he refused to state "unequivocally" that the Supreme Court correctly decided Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark case desegregating America's public schools.

Sinatra, 47, got his undergraduate and his law degree from the University at Buffalo. He clerked at the state's highest court and began his career at the Cleveland office of Jones Day, one of the nation's top law firms.

He later worked as a Department of Commerce lawyer under President George W. Bush. Then Sinatra came home to Buffalo to join the venerable Hodgson Russ law firm.

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