Senate confirms Biden’s nominee to Ninth Circuit appeals court in S.F.

The Senate on Monday confirmed President Biden’s nomination of Salvador Mendoza Jr., a federal judge and former criminal defense lawyer, to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where he will be the first Latino judge from Washington state.

The vote was 46-40, with three Republicans — Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — joining Democrats in support of Mendoza. He succeeds Judge M. Margaret McKeown, who is transferring to senior status with a reduced caseload.

Mendoza is Biden’s sixth appointee to the nation’s largest federal appeals court. All six have been either people of color, women or both. Biden has also nominated Anthony Johnstone, a University of Montana law professor, to the court, which has 16 Democratic appointees among its 29 judges.

Mendoza, 50, a UCLA law school graduate, worked briefly as a prosecutor, then spent 14 years in private law practice, mostly in criminal defense work, before becoming a judge. He spent a year on a state court in Washington before President Barack Obama named him to the U.S. District Court in 2014.

As a state judge, he refused to dismiss a gay couple’s lawsuit against Arlene’s Flowers, a company that refused to provide floral service for the couple’s wedding because of the owner’s religious objections. Washington’s Supreme Court later ruled that the company had violated the state’s anti-discrimination law, and after the U.S. Supreme Court denied review, the owner settled the suit.

As a federal judge, Mendoza refused in 2016 to dismiss a suit by the city of Spokane against Monsanto Co. for discharging chemicals known as polychlorinated biphenyls into water where they harmed fish and birds. Monsanto eventually settled suits by Spokane and other cities, including Oakland, Berkeley and San Jose, for more than $500 million.

The Senate confirmation was applauded by Lena Zwarensteyn of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Throughout his long judicial career on both state and federal courts, he has shown that he is dedicated to equal justice,” she said.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @BobEgelko