Senate Republicans alter blue slip process for two judicial nominees

Back in May, Senate Republicans openly mulled reforming the “blue slip” process to allow a federal judicial nominee to advance to a vote even if one home-state senator opposed the nomination. Now that reform is set to take place for two Court of Appeals nominees, David Stras of Minnesota and Kyle Duncan of Louisiana.

Debates over the blue slip process always feature some of the worst hypocrisy in the Senate, with the party in power (here led by Sen. Charles Grassley) waxing poetic about the Senate’s obligation to give every candidate a fair vote and the opposition party (here led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein) cynically urging that the president’s nominees are all dangerous extremists.

Imagine if other organizations had to rely entirely on outsiders to staff their core positions.

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Tweeting Judges, Revisited

Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who rose to fame in social media circles for his active and vibrant use of Twitter, was deemed “well-qualified” for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals by the American Bar Association earlier this week. Perhaps appropriately, the decision was tweeted out by another prominent member of the state court Twitterati, Georgia Court of Appeals Chief Judge Stephen Dillard.

Justice Willett has more than 100,000 Twitter followers and was a very active tweeter before his federal judicial nomination drove him to stay off the platform, at least temporarily. But he is no longer a rare exception to the rule that active judges stay off of social media. Chief Judge Dillard has more than 11,000 followers, and tweets several times a day, mostly on general legal issues.  He is joined by many other judges around the country with active Twitter accounts.

The legal profession has always been uneasy with judges engaging social media. David Lat took a look at this in 2014, concluding that the judicial use of Twitter to educate the public about the work of the courts was entirely appropriate, and that “judges just need to exercise sound judgment.”

The social media landscape has only grown in the ensuing three years, and the question is worth another look.  Is the judicial use of Twitter humanizing or harmful?

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Twelve-year old federal court vacancy in North Carolina one small step closer to being filled

Since 2005, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina has had an open seat, the product of partisan bickering in the Senate. George W. Bush nominated attorney Thomas Farr for the seat in 2006, but Senate Democrats failed to process the nomination.  Barack Obama subsequently nominated two different women to the seat during his presidency, but both nominations were blocked by Senate Republicans.  Now Donald Trump has come full circle, re-nominating Farr for the same seat.  And despite deep opposition by Democrats, Farr’s nomination advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday on a straight party-line vote.

It’s unclear who benefits from this partisan rancor, but it is very clear who loses: the courts and the public. For a dozen years since Judge John Malcolm took senior status, the Eastern District has been down an active district judge. Given that the district is only authorized to have four active judges, the court has been operating at only three-quarters capacity for more than a decade — and through no fault of its own.

I have no opinion on whether Mr. Farr is the right man for the job. But the public should reject as outlandish that the seat was not filled by someone long ago.

 

D.C. Circuit allows live broadcast of oral argument for first time in sixteen years

This morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit  permitted a live audio feed of an oral argument in Garza v. Hargen, a case involving whether the government should allow an undocumented teenage immigrant to obtain an abortion. It was the first live broadcast in the D.C. Circuit since a 2001 hearing in the Microsoft antitrust suit. Chief Judge Merrick Garland permitted the live stream in response to a request from the transparency group Fix the Court.

Although the argument itself has come and gone, the audio is available on the court’s website.

Federal district court nominee deemed “unqualified” by ABA

U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Goodwin, of the Western District of Oklahoma, has been deemed “unqualified” for the position of district judge by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. President Trump nominated Judge Goodwin to the district bench in July. The ABA gave no direct explanation for the “unqualified” designation.

Although the ABA’s evaluations of federal nominees date back to the Eisenhower Administration, recall that the Trump Administration has declined to share the names of its potential nominees with the ABA before nominations are announced. That approach (rare, but also used by George W. Bush) increases the likelihood that a nominee will be publicly identified as unqualified. (Potential nominees who receive a poor evaluation before an announcement is made can always be quietly dumped by the administration).

Judge Goodwin’s evaluation was not publicly released by the ABA; it was evidently leaked from a memorandum send to Senators Charles Grassley and Dianne Feinstein.  And Oklahoma’s Senators are standing by the nominee. But now that the evaluation is out, it raises serious questions about the qualifications and temperament of a sitting federal magistrate judge. Although magistrate judges do not serve for life, they do serve eight-year renewable terms. Judge Goodwin assumed the bench in 2013, and would be in place until at least 2021. It might prove to be an uncomfortable four years, and a more uncomfortable reappointment process, if his district court nomination is unsuccessful

 

Judge Posner’s new, self-published book raises eyebrows

Just days after retiring from his seat on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Richard Posner released his latest book, the awkwardly titled Reforming the Federal Judiciary: My Former Court Needs to Overhaul Its Staff Attorney Program and Begin Televising Its Oral Arguments.  The book is self-published, and apparently contains a significant number of internal memos from within the court.

The reviews are not good:

Continue reading “Judge Posner’s new, self-published book raises eyebrows”

Federal courthouses in Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands closed in wake of Hurricane Maria

The difficult and tragic hurricane season, which closed Texas’s federal and state courthouses last month, has now done the same to the courthouses in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  (A courthouse in Florida remains closed in the wake of Hurricane Irma as well.)  In light of the terrible destruction on those islands, the closing of a courthouse by itself is bottom-page news. But in times of crisis, courthouses are needed — both practically and symbolically — to assure citizens that the rule of law remains in place. Here’s hoping that the residents of all affected areas find strength, rebuild, and restore their communities.