Federal judicial selection

  • February 7, 2017
    Guest Post

    by Adam Shah. Shah worked for D.C. nonprofits on issues related to the Supreme Court nominations of John Roberts, Harriet Miers, Samuel Alito, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.

    Over the weekend, President Trump went on a 2-day-long Twitter rampage against a Seattle-based federal judge who halted his executive order banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations. Commentators have decried Trump for singling out a lone federal judge for attack, calling it an attack on the independence of the federal judiciary. This is true, but our federal judges are strong, life-tenured and can withstand harsh criticism without losing their commitment to making decisions based on law, not political considerations. 

    What should cause us worry, however, is the implications of Trump's attacks for his judicial nominees, including his Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch. If Trump is so easily angered by a judicial ruling that blocks one of his orders, what is likely the most important criterion Trump has for his judicial nominees? Loyalty. 

    This, of course, is the worst litmus test a president could have. Presidents may not like it, but they know that their own nominees will rule against their actions at times; Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor did it to President Obama. Having federal judges who will stand up to even the president that appointed them is one of the hallmarks of our judicial system, and that independence would be destroyed if a president picked nominees based on their unwillingness to do that. 

  • July 10, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Kara Farnandez Stoll with a 95-0 vote for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination in April, and her confirmation will make her the first minority woman to serve on the Federal Circuit.

     The Senate Judiciary Committee voted on three judicial nominees on Thursday. The Committee voted to send the nominations of Luis Felipe Restrepo, to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Travis Randall McDonough, to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, and Waverly D. Crenshaw, Jr., to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, to the Senate for confirmation votes.

    The large number of judicial vacancies continue to make it difficult for federal courts to adequately conduct business and deliver justice. Carl Tobias, the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond, urges the Senate to fill the vacancies on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims at The Hill, and the blog for the Alliance for Justice examines how Texas has become the epicenter of the judicial vacancy crisis.

    There are currently 62 vacancies, and 27 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 17 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • May 1, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Thursday, President Obama announced five new judicial nominations: Todd Sunhwae Kim to be an Associate Judge of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, and Julie Helene Becker, William Ward Nooter, Robert A. Salerno, and Steven M. Wellner to be Associate Judges of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.  

    Senator Chuck Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to admit his part in the delays on judicial nominees. As the Alliance for Justice explains, the senator has claimed that Republicans should take credit for nominees confirmed last congress, but has denied any responsibility for two months of Loretta Lynch’s confirmation wait that occurred in the same time period.

    More troubling still, the senator’s comments at the National Press Club on Monday indicate that he may wish to shut down judicial confirmations entirely. Senator Grassley stated, “Come July of 2015, probably they’ll be cut off and not approving any.”

    The blog of People for the American Way illustrates the problem with cutting off judicial confirmations in July. Not only could this move continue to swell the number of judicial vacancies, but it also comes at a time when the nominees that have presented are being considered at a glacial pace.

    There are currently 55 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 17 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • April 24, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    The U.S. Senate made another judicial confirmation on Monday. In a vote of 91-0, the Senate confirmed the nomination of George C. Hanks, Jr. to be a United States District Judge for the Southern District of Texas. Additionally, in unanimous voice votes, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted out two more nominees.  Kara Stoll, nominated to be a United States Circuit Judge for the Federal Circuit, and Roseann A. Ketchmark, to be a United States District Judge for the Western District of Missouri, were both voted out of committee. 

    Overall, the Senate continues to delay on confirming nominees. Republican leadership has refused to accept responsibility for the judicial vacancies. Texas, for example, has ten current vacancies according to the Alliance for Justice. Senate Republicans have done little to alleviate this pressing problem, and have they failed to accept their part in creating judicial emergencies. 

    U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley announced that he will recommend two Iowans for District Court vacancies this week, and it looks as though he will move quickly to move the nominees through the process. The Des Moines Register argues that the senator should apply this same sense of urgency to other nominees.

    Senator Mitch McConnell may be slowing down judicial nominations as means of getting back at Democrats for previous filibuster reforms. But as ACS President Caroline Fredrickson points out in a recent article at Talking Points Memo by Sahil Kapur, these delays may offer an opportunity for progressives to mobilize their base.

    After the confirmation of Loretta Lynch, the Senate now needs to consider Sally Yates to be Deputy Attorney General. Senator Patrick Leahy issued a statement on the nomination and the importance of moving more quickly on judicial nominations.

    There are currently 53 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 17 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.

  • April 17, 2015

    by Caroline Cox

    On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the nomination of Justice Wilhelmina Marie Wright to fill an upcoming vacancy on the U.S.  District Court for the District of Minnesota. Since 2012, Justice Wright has served as an Associate Justice on the Minnesota Supreme Court.

    Months after its opening session, the U.S. Senate made its first judicial confirmation of the year on Monday. In a unanimous vote, the Senate confirmed Alfred Bennett to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. As the Houston Chronicle reports, however, there are still at least two other pending confirmation votes for Texas federal judges.

    The blog for People for the American Way provides commentary on the first judicial confirmation vote. While the confirmation should be celebrated, the post argues, the delay in reaching this point shows how dysfunctional the confirmation process has become.

    There are currently 54 vacancies, and 23 are now considered judicial emergencies. There are 18 pending nominees. For more information see judicialnominations.org.