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Federal Judicial Nominee From Fresno Faces Senate GOP Grilling on ACLU Connection

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Fresno-based federal prosecutor Kirk Sherriff appears before the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (Screenshot)
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Federal judicial nominee Kirk Sherriff appeared before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Wednesday morning. President Joe Biden nominated Sherriff, an assistant U.S. Attorney based out of Fresno, in September.

Sherriff was one of six nominees at the hearing, all sitting side-by-side. He was the only nominee from California.

In his opening remarks, Sherriff thanked his family and political figures who supported his nomination. Several members of Sherriff’s family joined him in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve committed to over 20 years in public service upholding the rule of law. And one of the things that is fundamental and been important clearly in that has been evaluating cases fairly,” Sherriff said in his testimony.

No vote was taken. That will come at a later meeting. If Sherriff’s nomination passes out of committee, the full Senate will vote on his appointment.

Sherriff would replace Ana de Alba, who was nominated and confirmed to serve on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Eastern District stretches from the California-Oregon border to the north, Kern County to the south, most counties east of those on the coast to the west, and the Nevada border to the east.

Republicans Grill Sherriff About ACLU

Ranking member Sen. Linsey Graham, R-South Carolina, was impressed with Sherriff’s resume but still expressed reservations about the nominee.

“You present a dilemma for me. You seem like really a qualified guy,” Graham said.

Graham asked about Sherriff’s contributions to the ACLU of Southern California. Sherriff said he’s given about $120 a year since 2019. He said it was because of the group’s work on First Amendment issues.

The senator responded that the ACLU opposes law enforcement in schools. Asked if he agreed, Sherriff said that concept “does not offend me.” He testified that he delivered remarks at a school safety symposium that included law enforcement.

Sherriff also said he supports federal immigration agents. Graham countered that the ACLU does not.

“I completely believe in the rule of law. That’s fundamental. And obviously, our immigration laws, like other laws, should be fully enforced,” Sherriff testified.

Sen. Linsey Graham, R-South Carolina (above) and Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana (below), question Kirk Sherriff about the ACLU. (screenshot)

Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, followed up on whether Sherriff agreed with an ACLU position that “ICE is not welcome here.”

I believe that ICE carries out a legitimate … function under federal law,” Sherriff said.

Kennedy also read quotes from the ACLU about policing having roots in slave patrols.

Sherriff said that he was not familiar with that position.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, continued with this line of questioning.

“Do you think that U.S. policing has historical roots in slave patrols?” Hawley asked.

“I’m not aware of that, Senator,” Sherriff responded.

Sherriff defended law enforcement, calling it “a positive influence.” He also called ICE a “diligent, hardworking and ethical law enforcement office.”

The judicial nominee said he is not familiar with all of the ACLU’s positions, “but certainly I have independent views.”

California Democrat Laphonza Butler followed up, saying that Sherriff’s ACLU contributions don’t mean that he supports of all their views.

Messages made to the ACLU Southern California office by GV Wire seeking comment were not returned.

Cox and Other Contributions

Sherriff testified that in his career as a federal attorney, he has reviewed more than 1,000 indictments.

But he wasn’t asked by the senators if he was involved in the indictment of former Fresno congressman TJ Cox.

Cox faces 28 counts of fraud and money laundering among other charges. Charged in 2022, Cox’s next court hearing is scheduled for next month. The criminal complaint was signed by U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.

FEC records show Sherriff contributing $475 directly to Cox’s congressional campaigns between 2017 and 2020.

“Kirk Sherriff had no participation in the prosecution of TJ Cox,” DOJ spokeswoman Lauren Horwood told GV Wire. “Henry Carbajal is the attorney of record for the case and handled the case from the start. U.S. Attorney Talbert signed the indictment. It’s not our practice to comment on recusals.”

Hawley also questioned Sherriff’s contributions to ActBlue — a fundraising platform for Democratic candidates — which the senator said has had fundraising themes “all cops are bastards.”

Sherriff said he did not contribute to those fundraisers.

That does not represent my view of law enforcement,” Sherriff said.

FEC records show 12 different contributions to ActBlue between 2017 and 2020 totaling $850.

Hawley said he was “gratified” that Sherriff did not share those views.

California Senators Support Sherriff

Sherriff won glowing praise from California’s two Democratic senators, Butler and Alex Padilla.

“He understands the needs of the diverse communities and historically disadvantaged communities of the Central Valley because for the last two decades, he’s been there serving the Eastern District and engaging in community outreach,” Padilla said.

Butler noted the heavy caseload for the district, sixth highest in the nation with 803 cases filed per year for each judgeship, she said.

“It is vitally important that we confirm Mr. Sheriff as quickly as possible to ensure that the Eastern District is able to continue its work of ensuring the people of California have full and timely access to our justice system,” Butler said.

Supports Diversity in Hiring

Sherriff said he supports diversity in hiring clerks and staff when asked by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii.

“I think diversity of backgrounds and experiences makes having folks from diverse backgrounds and experiences makes our institutions, including the judiciary, stronger. I think it enhances public confidence in the judiciary.

He also encouraged outreach in schools for a “wide range of applicants from different backgrounds and experience would encourage diversity in that context with law clerks.”

Kennedy followed up, asking whether using a person’s race should be used to “harm” a candidate.

“Neither to harm nor benefit, Senator. I believe that applicants should be considered based on their background,” Sherriff said.

Sherriff Background

Sherriff has been with the Fresno-based U.S. Attorney’s Office since 2002. He is currently the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the criminal division, and the chief of the Fresno office since 2015.

Born in Berkeley, Sherriff grew up in Sacramento, raised by a single mother.

Graham joked about Sherriff being born in Berkeley. Sherriff noted he was raised elsewhere.

“That is a good answer … just on our side, it doesn’t ring a lot of good bells,” Graham said.

Ivy League educated — Columbia for undergraduate and Harvard for his juris doctorate — Sherriff taught in the Mississippi Teacher Corps before engaging in his legal career.

“I believe firmly that there are students all over this country, including in very small towns, who have tremendous capabilities and tremendous potential. And we have one of the greatest higher education systems in the … world,” Sheriff said. “I would like to see (K-12 public schools) be at that same level.”

Sherriff started his career at the White & Case law firm in New York City in 1994. He also clerked for New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Deborah Poritz.

During his time as a federal prosecutor in Fresno, Sherriff testified he has participated in 10 criminal trials and two civil jury trials. Asked in a questionnaire to list the 10 most significant litigated matters, Sherriff identified mostly fraud cases. At the top of the list was a criminal tax evasion case, United States v. Vincent, winning a conviction.

His questionnaire also mentioned membership in the Fig Garden Swim and Racquet Club, as well as Valley Public Radio.

Sherriff’s wife, Samya Burney, is president of Central California Legal Services. He said in his questionnaire he would recuse himself from CCLS cases.

He also received letters of support from former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District McGregor Scott, and nine superior court judges from Fresno and Madera counties.

Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email