The Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday advanced the nominations of four individuals for the federal bench. They are Ralph Erickson (8th Circuit), Donald Coggins Jr (D.S.C.), Dabney Friedreich (D.D.C.), and Steven Schwartz (Court of Federal Claims). Only Mr. Schwartz proved to be a controversial vote; he was passed 11-9.
The ABA Journal reports on a wide-ranging public discussion between Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Judge Ann Claire Williams in Chicago. Worth a full read.
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.”
Judge Julia Gibbons, the Chair of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee, appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday to request $7.2 billion in funding for the federal courts for Fiscal Year 2018. She was joined by James Duff, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The full testimony of both Judge Gibbons and Director Duff are available at the link.
Want to keep track of the status of all pending federal judicial nominations? Here is the Senate Judiciary’s Committee’s website.
Roy Moore, the Alabama judge best known for his position on placing the Ten Commandments inside state courthouses, abruptly resigned his position as Chief Justice yesterday in order to run for the United States Senate. Moore’s resignation was essentially a technicality; he was suspended from his judgeship last year for a variety of ethics violations, and has not served on the state supreme court for months.
Moore is seeking the Senate seat currently held on an interim basis by former state attorney general Luther Strange. Strange was appointed to the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions upon his confirmation as U.S. Attorney General. In yet another twist, Strange was appointed by then-Governor Robert Bentley, who resigned in scandal just weeks ago.
Beyond the head-spinning number of scandals and vacancies, Moore’s decision to enter the race highlights a sometimes-overlooked aspect of judicial interdependence: many judges begin their careers as legislators, and many legislators begin their careers as judges.
The Hill reports on Senator Charles Grassley’s statements to a local Iowa newspaper. It is unclear whether there is anything more than conjecture to this prediction, but it does seem reasonably likely that there will be at least one more vacancy before January 20, 2021. The real question is whether there will be a vacancy before the midterm elections next year, since a change in the composition of the Senate could impact both nomination and confirmation strategies.