WASHINGTON — Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison H. Eid faced tough questions from a U.S. Senate committee Wednesday during her confirmation hearing to become a federal appeals court judge.
Senators asked her about her conservative record as a lawyer and judge in Colorado.
She pledged to be impartial as a judge for the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
“You take an oath to be impartial,” Eid said. “That’s an expectation and you have to do it as a judge.”
The 10th Circuit is based in Denver but handles cases throughout six Western states: Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming.
A 10th Circuit judgeship was vacated when Neil Gorsuch left the job to become a U.S. Supreme Court justice. President Donald Trump nominated Eid to replace him in June.
Eid denied an allegation from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who told her during the hearing, “Your critics say that you decide cases based on a personal agenda.”
Eid responded, “I don’t look at the parties before me. I decide the cases based on the facts and the law.”
Among her critics is liberal advocacy group People for the American Way, which thinks she’s too conservative.
After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School in 1991, she served as a clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She has been a teacher at the University of Colorado Law School.
In 2005, former Colorado Attorney General John Suthers appointed Eid as the solicitor general of Colorado. A year later, former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens appointed her to be a judge in the Colorado Supreme Court.
In 2008, she retained her job on the state Supreme Court by a 75 percent majority approval of Colorado voters.
Eid, 52, lives outside of Denver in the small town of Morrison with her husband and two children.
Eid estimated that she has heard about 900 cases on the state Supreme Court and written 100 of the opinions.
During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday, Rep. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., asked her about her dissenting opinion in the 2015 case of Westin Operators LLC v. Groh.
The lawsuit was filed by the family of Jillian Groh, who rented a Denver hotel room for an evening of partying with friends. Security guards evicted them after noise complaints.
Groh and her companions told the guards they could not drive because they were drunk. They asked to wait in the lobby for a cab because of freezing temperatures outside. The security guards instead blocked the door to prevent them from re-entering the hotel.
The group of seven got into Groh’s car, which rear-ended another vehicle minutes later. One man was killed and Groh was left in a vegetative condition from brain injury. Groh’s parents sued the Westin Hotel.
A majority of the Colorado Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling saying Groh’s parents had a right to sue on whether the hotel unreasonably evicted the group into a “foreseeably dangerous circumstance.”
Eid dissented, saying the lawsuit should have been dismissed.
“You saw no material dispute of fact,” Durbin said.
“There’s a critical fact you left out,” Eid said. “The party walked by waiting cabs. That was caught on videotape.”
They could have hailed any of the cabs parked near the hotel, she said. Instead, they entered Groh’s car and drove away.
“I pointed out the videotape,” Eid said. “I based my dissent on that.”
Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., asked the judge about her dissent in the case of People v. Vigil, in which police arrested a man after they observed what they thought was a drug deal in a Walsenburg, Colo., parking lot.
Clovis Vigil confessed to having cocaine in his pocket after being severely beaten by police, requiring hospital treatment. A majority of the Colorado Supreme Court ruled the cocaine could not be used as evidence against Vigil because of the coercive force used by police.
“You disagreed, you thought the drugs should be admitted into evidence,” Franken said. “Why?”
Eid replied, “I had a procedural disagreement with the majority.”
Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Del., asked about Eid’s dissent in the 2011 ruling of People v. Schutter, in which police looked through text messages stored in the cellphone of an illegal drug suspect. He inadvertently locked the cellphone in the restroom of a convenience store along with the key.
The defendant asked a clerk to open the bathroom but the clerk said he was too busy. He asked the defendant to come back later. Instead, he did not return.
The clerk turned over the cellphone to police, who searched through incriminating messages in the phone.
A majority of the state Supreme Court said the messages could not be used as evidence at trial because they were retrieved by police without a warrant.
“You were the lone dissenter,” Coons said.
Eid responded by saying, “He never went back to get that phone.”
She said the defendant “abandoned” the cellphone, meaning it no longer could be considered private property that required a warrant for a search.
Despite occasional disputes during the confirmation hearing, some of the senators praised Eid for her 11-½ years on the Colorado Supreme Court.
She was introduced by Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, who called her a “fiercely independent jurist.”
“Justice Eid will side with what the law says and she will do it in that common sense Western way,” Gardner said.
A final vote in the Senate on Eid’s confirmation is expected within weeks, but no date has been set.
Editor’s note, 3:24 p.m.: It was Suthers, not Owens, who appointed Eid solicitor general in 2005. The article has been updated accordingly.