Insurance claims analyst with no legal education elected as judge in Pennsylvania

Brian Tupper, a claims analyst with Berkshire Hathaway, will take the bench in Wilkes-Barre. The seat was held by Tupper’s father until his recent retirement.  The local story notes: “Because he is not a law graduate, Tupper prepared for his new job by completing a four week certification course with the Justified Judicial System of Pennsylvania in June 2016.”

Oh, boy.

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.”

Court administrator nominated to Supreme Court of Philippines

The Philippine Judges Association (PJA) has nominated court administrator Jose Midas Marquez to an open seat on that country’s Supreme Court.  Marquez has also served as a law clerk and a public information officer.  In announcing the nomination, the PJA noted that Marquez  “brought significant innovations and reforms in the dispensation of justice in the first and second level courts.”

There have been instances of American judges going straight from administrative positions to judgeships, but rarely is familiarity with the court’s internal procedures a selling point to Congress and state nominating commissions.  Perhaps it should be.

Roundup on Pennsylvania’s judicial elections

Pennsylvania voters will go to the polls this coming Tuesday to choose their state judges in their traditional odd-year, contested, partisan elections.  Here are some of the late-breaking stories from across the state:

Finally, in a very positive development, the proposed legislation to shift Pennsylvania from partisan judicial elections to a merit selection system gained some traction when the House Judiciary Committee approved a measure to place the issue before the voters. There is still a long road ahead, but it can be done. And voters in other states have proven more than capable of understanding the benefits of merit selection.

Tuesday  should be interesting.

Several new federal judicial nominees have state court experience, and that’s great news

On Monday, the President nominated ten individuals for federal judgeships — five on the circuit courts of appeal, four on the district courts, and one on the U.S. Court of Claims.  Three of the ten (Joan Larsen of Michigan, David Stras of Minnesota, and David Nye of Idaho) currently sit on state courts — Larsen and Stras on their state supreme courts, and Nye on his state’s trial bench.

The value of state court experience for federal judges has not been discussed much, but it should be. An intimate knowledge of state law and state court operations is surprisingly useful for the federal bench. And appointing federal judges from the state courts has valuable ripple effects for the states as well. More after the jump.

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Imaginary president stumps for real judicial candidate

In advance of this month’s statewide judicial elections, actor Martin Sheen has appeared on YouTube and television, advocating for the reelection of Pennsylvania judge Joseph Cosgrove. That Sheen would support Cosgrove is not surprising: they are apparently old friends and political allies, and Cosgrove evidently represented Sheen for time when he was in private practice.

But the ads are not just an endorsement from Martin Sheen, the actor.  Sheen deliberately blurs the line between his real-life persona and that of Josiah Bartlet, the fictional president from “The West Wing.”  Here is the YouTube endorsement, featuring a “decree” signed by Bartlet.

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