Judicial Nominations

  • October 16, 2013

    by Rebekah DeHaven

    As the government shutdown stretches into its second week, Library of Congress events remain cancelled and the National Zoo Panda Cam dark. More importantly Congress’s work on judicial nominations, already gridlocked, has been affected too. The Senate did manage to confirm a few judges. The Senate Judiciary Committee, however, postponed an October 3 hearing to vote on the nomination of U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and for 5 other District Court nominees, and an October 9 hearing for the nomination of Matthew Leitman to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

    Federal courts are on the brink of exhausting their reserves. Courts across the country are considering which employees to deem “essential” and asking employees to work without knowing when they will be paid. Although a deal appears imminent, the public is finally getting a clear picture of what the landscape would look like if courts shut down, and what preparing to run out of resources has meant for our judicial system.

    But this is not entirely unfamiliar territory. Our courts have been hobbled because of insufficient funding and staffing, for a very long time. At the Fourth Circuit Judicial Conference in June, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts warned, “we have sustained cuts that mean people have to be furloughed or worse and that has a more direct impact on the services that we can provide.” Similarly, Chief U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said that the “cuts are an assault on the whole system.”

  • September 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Along a party-line vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee today approved the nomination of Nina Pillard to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. The nomination must still be considered by the entire Senate.

    Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) voted against the nomination, again noting his wobbly claim that the 11-member D.C. Circuit, one of the most powerful appellate courts in the land, does not need the vacancies filled. Grassley has been pushing a bill that aims to cut seats from the D.C. Circuit, effectively leaving its right-wing tilt in place.

    Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) lauded today’s vote, saying “Pillard’s character and qualifications are unassailable.” A press release from Leahy’s office also noted that Pillard, a professor of law at Georgetown University, has argued “nine cases before the Supreme Court as well as drafted the government’s successful argument in the landmark Supreme Court case, United States v. Virginia, which opened the doors to the Virginia Military Institute for female cadets.”

    Despite efforts by some right-wing pundits to distort Pillard’s legal work and career, she has received support of Republicans, former law enforcement and military officials, conservatives, and many leading members of the Supreme Court bar from both parties.

    Several public interest groups lauded today’s Senate Committee action and called for a swift floor-vote of Pillard’s nomination.

    Leslie Proll, director of LDF’s Washington Office said, “We trust the Senate will recognize that Nina is a tremendously qualified nominee, who would be an incredible asset to the D.C. Circuit.”

    National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) Co-President Marcia Greenberger, noted that Pillard’s “impressive legal career includes two tours in the U.S. Department of Justice and 15 years teaching at the Georgetown University Law Center. In addition, she currently brings her legal acumen and expertise to her role as Co-Director of Georgetown’s Supreme Court Institute, which prepares lawyers for oral argument before the Supreme Court on a pro bono basis. She is a legal superstar who would bring extraordinary skills to the Court, including her deep background on legal protections for women.”

    There are more than 90 vacancies on the federal bench and for most of President Obama’s time in office vacancies have hovered near 80. Today the president announced 8 more judicial nominations, including Diane J. Humetawa to the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. If confirmed, Humetawa would become the first Native American female judge in the nation’s history.

    The National Native American Bar Association lauded Humetawa’s nomination, calling it “historic.”

    For information on federal court vacancies and nominations see JudicialNominations.org.

  • July 26, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama seeking to fill vacancies on the federal bench, which hover above 80, has nominated a diverse group, including an ACS leader and member, to U.S. District Court judgeships.

    Matthew F. Leitman, who has served as a leader the ACS Michigan Chapter, was nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. Leitman is a principal at Miller Canfield, a Michigan law practice that has offices in Canada, Mexico, Poland and China. Leitman’s work encompasses complex commercial litigation, criminal defense, and litigation before state and federal appellate courts. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

    Vince Girdhari Chhabria, an ACS member and speaker at ACS events, was nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. If confirmed, Chhabria would be the first South Asian judge in California and the fourth South Asian judge in the U.S., The Times of India reports. Chhabria currently serves as Deputy Chief Attorney for Government Litigation and as the Co-Chief of Appellate Litigation in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera is an ACS Board member. (In June, Herrera talked with ACSblog about his office’s significant involvement in advancing marriage equality in California.) Chhabria received his J.D. from Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.

    The other nominees are: Judith Ellen Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; Laurie J. Michelson, U.S. Magistrate Judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan; James “Jay” Maxwell Moody Jr., an Arkansas Circuit Judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas; and Linda Vivienne Parker, a Michigan state judge, for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.

    There are 85 vacancies on the federal bench. For more information about those vacancies and nominations see JudicialNominations.org.

  • July 25, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Even after reaching a deal to move along some executive branch nominations, a gaggle of Republican senators is showing how far it is from giving up on obstructing President Obama’s nominations for long-standing vacancies on the federal bench.

    Yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing to consider the nomination of Cornelia “Nina” Pillard to one of the three vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has drawn quick attention from reporters, scholars and activists for some of the accusations lobbed at Pillard, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center with a varied and deep legal career. (And Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) kept insisting the D.C. Circuit, which hears some of the most complex and time-consuming legal matters of all the appeals court circuits doesn’t need any more judges. But Patricia M. Wald, who served for 20 years on the D.C. Circuit, five of them as its chief judge, provides reality here.)

    But Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) tried mightily to paint Pillard as unfit to serve on the federal bench. Pillard (pictured) has a widely respected legal career, including varied scholarship, and extensive work as an attorney for the federal government, including the Solicitor General and the Office of Legal Counsel; for mainstream boards seeking to provide services to multinational corporations, such as the American Arbitration Association, and for the long-respected civil rights group, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. But in their questions Lee and Cruz seemed to misstate or misrepresent what Pillard had said in writings and briefs she had authored years before. 

    Pillard has not only taught law, she’s practiced law representing the federal government and individuals seeking to enforce Congress's civil rights laws. But Lee and Cruz during the Senate committee hearing labored to create a far different picture. Specifically they focused on a short symposium article she wrote more than a decade ago that sought common ground on the divisive issue of reproductive choice, and an amicus brief she wrote in support of lower court decisions that had held Operation Rescue accountable for physically blocking women's access to family planning facilities. 

    But Lee and Cruz seemed either to misunderstand or misrepresent Pillard's own words. For example, Cruz claimed that Pillard had once written that abstinence-only education was constitutionally suspect. She did not and tried to explain it to the senator. Pillard pointed out that her article merely argued that such programs should not be bound by stereotypes. Instead she explained that abstinence-only education should be taught without promulgating stereotypes. Moreover that article was intended for policymakers offering ways to bridge a gap between anti-abortion activists and women’s rights advocates by identifying initiatives both sides could agree upon that would reduce the incidence of abortion.

    Cruz and Lee continued their misrepresentation of Pillard's legal work, claiming that in an amicus or friend-of-the-court brief that she equated anti-abortion activists to violent white supremacists, like the KKK. Again, the senators either did not read the brief or they shamelessly took parts of it out of context to tar Pillard. In reality Pillard argued that a civil rights law was aimed at private groups that interfered with or ‘hindered’ the police’s ability to protect people’s rights, no matter who the private groups were. In no way could the brief be read to say that a moral equivalency exists between anti-abortion activists and violent groups like the KKK.

    Pillard in fact has a stellar record reflecting moderate views, and has received the support of Republicans, former law enforcement and military officials, conservatives, and many leading members of the Supreme Court bar from both parties.

    Sen. Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) noted that Pillard “has had a distinguished career as a practitioner, as an academic … she’s argued nine cases before the Supreme Court … spent her legal career in public service … and for the past 13 years, she’s worked as a professor of my alma mater, Georgetown University Law Center.”

  • July 17, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    On the heels of reaching a limited deal in the Senate to move on seven executive branch nominations, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) urged the Senate to stop slow-walking and blocking nominations of African-Americans to the federal bench. 

    Although President Obama has made significant strides in diversifying the federal bench, too many of his minority nominees have faced delays or have seen their nominations scuttled. And a 2010 study of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts showed the federal bench is still dominated by men.

    Specifically the representatives who participated in a press briefing this morning hosted by the CBC took aim at Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) for delaying the nominations of Brian Davis to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District and William L. Thomas for the U.S. District Court for  the District of the Southern District, who is openly gay.

    Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.), said, “I am thoroughly frustrated that Marco Rubio is continuing to hold up the nomination of a stellar judge from Jacksonville. Judge Brian J. Davis was first nominated by President Obama last Februaryto serve on the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.”

    The Tampa Bay Times reported that both Davis and Thomas were approved by Florida’s Judicial Nominating Commission. According to the newspaper, Rubio and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley are troubled by comments made by Davis a decade ago about the resignation of Joycelyn Elders, the U.S. surgeon general during the Clinton administration.

    Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) noted that it is not just the Florida nominees that are being held up, saying the picture is large and disconcerting.

    A working group of the CBC chaired by Norton found that “while the president has kept pace and often surpassed prior presidents in black judicial appointments, a disproportionate number of African-American nominees have been held up or slowed. Almost one-third (10 of 33) of the judicial nominees currently pending in the Senate are African Americans.”

    She urged the Senate to stop delaying these nominees, concluding, “As our country has become one of the most diverse in the world, a judiciary that reflects that diversity is virtually mandatory. Respectfor the rule of law requires respect for the fairness of the judiciary. The Senate establishes the threshold of fairness by confirming a judiciary that represents the diversity of the citizenry whose cases federal judges are called upon to decide. The Congressional Black Caucus will not quietly allow highly-qualified African American judges to be sidelined without hearings or to be held up on the Senate floor after being voted out of the committee.”

    For more on the vacancy crisis on the federal bench, see JudicialNominations.org.