White House announces eleven new district court nominees

President Trump nominated eleven people to federal district judgeships yesterday, covering districts in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.  Once again, I am struck by the nominees’ breadth of experience. The group of eleven includes five attorneys in private practice, three state court judges, one United States Magistrate Judge, one law professor, and one state legislator.  Several of the nominees have practice experience in both the government and the private sector.

As a general matter, I have been very impressed with the quality of judicial nominees coming from the administration.  Hopefully Congress will hold swift confirmation hearings on the nominees and begin to cure the severe vacancy crisis in our federal district courts.

Two extremes along the spectrum of judicial professionalism

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Anna Brown was recognized with the 2017 American Inns of Court Professionalism Award for the Ninth Circuit.  Judge Brown has served on the bench for the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon since 1999.  Cribbing from the press release:

Brown is president of the 9th Circuit District Judges Association, speaks frequently on programs for new trial judges, and currently serves on the Court Administration and Case Management Committee of the U.S. Judicial Conference. She is a past member and officer of the Gus. J. Solomon American Inn of Court, has served as chair of the Oregon State Bar Uniform Civil and Criminal Jury Instructions Committees and the 9th Circuit Jury Instructions and Jury Trial Improvement Committees, and is a founding member of Oregon Women Judges in conjunction with Oregon Women Lawyers and the U.S. District Court of Oregon Historical Society.

While working full-time as a 911 operator, Brown earned her bachelor’s degree from Portland State University. Attending law school at night, she earned a J.D. from Northwestern School of Law (now Lewis & Clark Law School). She served as law clerk to Multnomah County Circuit Judge John C. Beatty, Jr.

Congratulations to Judge Brown on a well-deserved honor.

Meanwhile, unfortunately, something far less than honor was falling on Houston Justice of the Peace Hilary Green, who was suspended by the Texas Supreme Court amid allegations that she engaged in sexting in the courtroom, hired prostitutes, used her bailiff to buy drugs, and brought home marijuana seized from a defendant.

Green’s lawyer, Chip Babcock, responded to the suspension by noting that Green had been reelected many times by the voters.  “She’s very popular in the precinct,” he said.

Sigh.

 

Attorneys file federal class action lawsuit over PACER fees

In April, attorneys for several watchdog groups filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, arguing that the court’s Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system overcharged the public for access to court records starting in April 2010.

The lawsuit seeks “an unspecified amount of damages that ‘are found to exceed the amount authorized by law,’ as well as attorney fees.” Court documents and further details on the suit from the class action attorneys can be found here.

I was notified by email that I am a member of the plaintiff class, based on periodic PACER research I have conducted since 2010. And I have been critical of high PACER fees in the past, especially when PACER is used purely for academic research.  But this is a pretty silly lawsuit.  The class action attorneys will make a tidy sum from any settlement, and the actual affected members will likely get nothing of consequence.  I would much prefer to see the courts offer PACER as a free research service, or otherwise develop a sensible, tiered payment system.

 

 

Justice Breyer: Courtroom cameras are too risky

Speaking at the American Constitution Society’s annual convention, Justice Stephen Breyer again expressed skepticism about video recording the Court’s oral arguments.  Breyer stated that some of his friends have told him he does “ridiculous things” during argument, and that the presence of cameras could change the tone of the session.

I will leave an assessment of a public figure questioning public access to issues of public importance, all while speaking at a quasi-public event, as an exercise for the reader.

The cascade effects of federal judicial nominations

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee will consider a number of President Trump’s judicial nominees, including current Idaho state judge David Nye. In related news, the President has nominated Colorado Supreme Court Justice Allison Eid to the Tenth Circuit seat previously held by Neil Gorsuch.

Assuming that Nye and Eid are eventually confirmed by the Senate, their current state seats will become open, and will be filled by their respective state governors from a list provided by a nominating commission. (One interesting twist is that Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, would be given his fourth appointment to the state supreme court, replacing a more conservative justice with presumably a more liberal one.)

The new judges in Colorado and Idaho will both serve a short, interim term before facing the voters. But the way in which they will face the voters is quite different, and highlights challenges that some states face in attracting qualified candidates for the state bench.

Continue reading “The cascade effects of federal judicial nominations”

Courts try new tactics to address those who skip jury duty

The Oregonian has an interesting article on the efforts of state and federal courts to crack down on citizens not appearing for jury duty.  The story nicely describes the range of tactics in play, from jury coordinators and James Taylor concert videos to being individually summoned and grilled by an irritated judge.

Jury trials are central to the American justice system, and citizens who serve on a jury almost always walk away with a better appreciation for the court system and their own civic responsibilities.

GOP Senators consider modifications to blue-slip practice

For a century, the U.S. Senate has followed an unwritten “blue-slip” practice, in which Senators are permitted to block federal district and circuit court nominees from their home states from advancing to a confirmation vote, simply by declining to endorse the nominees.  Viewed in the most positive light, the practice allows Senators to exercise informed discretion over the nominee’s fit with a local court and local constituency.  Viewed more cynically, the blue-slip procedure provides Senators with essentially unchecked power to block nominees for any reason, no matter how ideological, arbitrary, or mean-spirited.

Senate Republicans are now openly talking about modifying the practice, to extend blue-slip privileges only over district court nominees.  This means that a single Senator could not hold up confirmation hearings over individuals nominated to serve on the U.S. Courts of Appeal.  Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) explained: “I think there’s a difference between the blue-slip application at the district court level where the courts is contained wholly within a state as opposed to a circuit court which covers multiple states….  The idea that an individual senator could veto in effect a nominee at the circuit court level is really unprecedented and I think it needs to be carefully looked at.”