Cotton was trying to mock Myrna Pérez, Biden’s pick for a lifetime seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, over past comments she made about not wanting to use the word “felon.” During the Judiciary Committee hearing, he mentioned other words that Pérez had used before, including “murderer” and “rapist,” in an attempt to show that whatever concerns she has with the word “felon” don’t line up.
But Pérez, a longtime voting rights attorney and advocate, welcomed the question and explained why she sees the word “felon” differently, invoking her belief that each person is a “child of God” capable of redemption. Pérez has previously made the case for restoring voting rights for Americans with past convictions ― something Cotton seemed to be winding up to criticize ― and framed it as a central part of reducing racial segregation.
Cotton did not respond further and simply thanked Pérez for her comments.
Watch their exchange in the video above. A transcript is also below:
Cotton: If someone commits a murder, do you think it’s fair to call them a murderer?
Pérez: If someone has been convicted for murder? Yes.
Cotton: If they commit rape, do you think it’s fair to call them a rapist?
Pérez: Have they been convicted?
Cotton: So if they commit a felon[y], do you think it’s fair to call them a felon?
Pérez: I think that that is a bit different because there’s a temporal issue, and I think that there’s a raging policy debate on that.
Cotton: Because in the past you’ve said you don’t like to use that word. You said, “I don’t use words like ‘felons’ to describe people. I mean, we don’t describe people by a mistake that they made.”
Pérez: I don’t. I believe that every person is a child of God capable of being redeemed, and I never look at anybody and see the worst thing that they’ve ever done.
Cotton: If those convicted murderers or rapists get released from prison, often under misguided policies, do you think it’s still fair to call them a murderer or rapist?
Pérez: Irrespective of what their label was, sir, I would be on record as an advocate of trying to advocate for their right to vote if the criminal justice system had deemed them to be fit to be living amongst us.
Cotton: All right, thanks for your testimony.
Biden has made a point to nominate people to federal judgeships who have a wide range of backgrounds, both in terms of race and gender but also their professional experiences. He has specifically picked people who are public defenders, civil rights lawyers and voting rights attorneys because, according to his administration, they bring a perspective that is sorely needed on the federal bench, which is overwhelmingly comprised of white men with backgrounds as prosecutors or in corporate law.
If confirmed, Pérez will be the only Latina on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.