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.
In June, I flagged an interesting story of five judicial candidates in Brooklyn who are aggressively running against the Democratic Party machine. These candidates, led by John O’Hara (a lawyer with a colorful and checkered past), assert that the borough’s independent screening panel is really just an arm of the local Democratic Party, and subject to the wishes of party bosses. All but one of the insurgent candidates has refused to go before the panel .
With the primary about a month away, the New York Law Journal weighs in with an article that captures the essence of the insurgency, as well as the establishment position. The crux of their claims: the party asserts that the 24-member screening panel simply determines candidates’ fitness for the bench, and expects no quid pro quo for the candidates it deems qualified. The O’Hara group alleges that the panel is essentially a mechanism for attorney members to receive future favors from the candidates they endorse.
I generally favor screening panels or nominating commissions as part of a comprehensive judicial selection process. But this challenge makes clear that if the panel itself is not seen as legitimate, neither will the judicial candidates it endorses. And New York has a long and unfortunate history of party boss control over the selection of local judges. We’ll see how it plays out at the September 12 primary.
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.
This blog has been closely following the appointment of former Irish Attorney General Maire Whelan to that country’s Court of Appeal last week, which has engendered enough controversy to threaten to bring down the new government. Whelan accepted her appointment on Monday, but that hardly ended the matter. On Wednesday night, the Dail (Ireland’s parliament) held a lengthy debate over the propriety of the appointment. According to one story:
A two-hour debate was held in the Dáil to discuss the appointment last night.
It became extremely heated.
New Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan said a new bill was part of the government’s aim of “entirely reforming the judicial appointment system”.
Jim O’Callaghan dismissed the claim that Cabinet confidentiality prevented the answering of essential questions on the matter.
Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald, meanwhile, said that Micheál Martin – who wasn’t present for the debate – had serious questions to answer based on a telephone call he had with the Taoiseach on the matter last Sunday.
She questioned whether Martin attempted to use his influence on the government to prevent Whelan being appointed.
Labour leader Brendan Howlin took aim at the Independent Alliance who, he claimed, “clapped through an appointment that they now oppose”.
Clare Daly said the appointment was legal, but “political”.
Mattie McGrath said “new politics, my foot”.
Sinn Féin’s Jonathan O’Brien got into a war of words with Minister Flanagan, after asking how many others applied for the role.
Today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was asked if the situation had affected Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s confidence and supply arrangement. “Obviously the week that has gone by I don’t think has been helpful for either party,” he said. “But we have a written agreement.”
We’ll continue to watch how this plays out.
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.