Judge John Badalamenti – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

A longtime public defender, Judge John Badalamenti is President Trump’s fourth nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Background

The 45-year-old Badalamenti received a B.A. in Criminology and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Florida.[1]  Badalamenti then received his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, after which he joined the U.S. Attorney General’s Honors Program, where he was placed with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Atlanta.[2]

After his time with the Honors Program, Badalamenti clerked for Judges Frank Hull and Judge Paul Roney on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit before joining the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.[3] 

In 2015, Badalamenti was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida by Governor Rick Scott.  He still holds the judgeship.

History of the Seat

Badalamenti has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on December 14, 2018, when Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich moved to senior status.  

Badalamenti was one of four finalists nominated for this court by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in December 2017.[4]  Badalamenti was formally nominated on February 4, 2020.

Legal Experience

Badalamenti has most of his pre-bench career as a federal public defender, an unusual background for a judicial nominee, particularly one in a Republican administration.  In his role as a federal public defender, Badalamenti practiced before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as well as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  For example, in one case, Badalamenti successfully got the sentences of his client reversed on the grounds that a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon should not be considered a “violent” crime for sentencing enhancement.[5] 

However, Badalamenti’s most notable case was Yates v. United States, which he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.[6]  In the case, his client was caught catching grouper that were too small to fit under federal regulations, and subsequently disposed of the small fish before federal authorities could inspect the catch.[7]  Yates was prosecuted and convicted for destruction of evidence under a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that criminalized destroying “tangible objects” while impeding federal investigations.[8]  Ultimately, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, agreed with Badalamenti that the Sarbanes-Oxley charges were improper.[9]  The ruling cut across ideological lines with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the opinion striking down the conviction, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.[10]  Meanwhile, Justice Elena Kagan dissented, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas.

Judicial Experience

Badalamenti served as an appellate judge in Florida since 2015.  In this role, Badalamenti serves as an intermediate appellate judge, reviewing criminal and civil appeals from the county courts and the circuit courts.  

Among his most notable cases while sitting as an appellate judge, Badalamenti joined an opinion finding that the state of Florida needed to reimburse Lee County homeowners for cutting down healthy citrus trees, an act committed to slow down the spread of citrus-canker disease.[11]  Badalamenti agreed with the trial court that the Takings Clause of the Florida Constitution required repayment even where the repayment had not been authorized by the Florida legislature.[12]

Overall Assessment

Much ink has been spelled on the relative paucity of public defenders on the federal bench compared to prosecutors, and the brutal campaign against Judge Jane Kelly, another former public defender, during her brief consideration for the Supreme Court helps explain why that gap exists.  

Nonetheless, public defenders perform an important constitutional duty in the criminal justice process.  Given his support from Trump and Florida’s Republican senators, Badalamenti should be able to avoid any negative comment from his work.


[1] Florida Second Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge John L. Badalamenti, Biography (available at https://www.2dca.org/Judges/Judge-John-L.-Badalamenti),

[2] Id.

[3] Id. 

[4] Fellow nominees Thomas Barber and Wendy Berger were also finalists.

[5] United States v. Canty, 570 F.3d 1251 (11th Cir. 2009).

[6] See 135 S. Ct. 1074.

[7] See Robert Barnes, Justices Tackle the Case of the Missing Grouper: Federal Prosecutors Used a Portion of the Law to Tackle a Commercial Fisherman Who Threw Some Back, Wash. Post, Nov. 5, 2014.

[8] See In re Rosemary Frost, Case No. 2001-1954 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2001).

[9] Supreme Court: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, CNN Wire, Feb. 25, 2015.

[10] See id.

[11] See Jim Saunders, Court Says State Should Pay in Citrus Fight, The News Service of Florida, Nov. 13, 2019, https://cbs12.com/news/local/court-says-state-should-should-pay-in-citrus-fight.

[12] See id.

Judge Cory Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

Judge Cory Wilson, who currently serves on the Mississippi Court of Appeals has a relatively short jurisprudential record.  However, as a former state representative, Wilson has a larger record of political activity and statements that may be mined during the confirmation process.

Background

Cory Todd Wilson was born on August 8, 1970, in Pascagoula, Mississippi.  After getting a B.A. summa cum laude from the University of Mississippi, Wilson received his J.D. from Yale Law School.[1]  Wilson then clerked for Judge Emmett Ripley Cox on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and then joined the Jackson office of Watkins Ludlam Winter & Stennis P.A.

In 2001, Wilson joined Bradley Arant Rose & White LLP as an associate.  He stayed until 2008, except for a year as a White House Fellow.[2]  In 2008, he joined the Mississippi Secretary of State’s Office as Chief of Staff/Deputy Secretary of State.  Wilson also served as Counsel for State Treasurer Lynn Fitch.  

In 2011, Wilson joined Heidelberg Steinberger Colmer & Burrow, P.A., where he stayed until his election to the Mississippi House of Representatives as a Republican in 2016.  Wilson served in the House until 2019, when he was appointed to the Mississippi Court of Appeals.

History of the Seat

Wilson has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  This seat opened on March 23, 2018, when Judge Louis Guirola took senior status.  While Wilson broached his interest in the judgeship in mid-2018, his nomination was not sent to the White House until May 2019, after he had been appointed to a seat on the Mississippi Court of Appeals.[3]  Wilson was ultimately nominated in November 2019.

Legal Experience

Before he joined the legislature, Wilson generally practiced civil litigation, albeit with some work with both the Secretary of State and the Treasurer of Mississippi.  Over the course of his career, Wilson has tried three cases to verdict.[4]  Notably, Wilson represented one of the defendants sued for allegedly engaging in a conspiracy to photograph Sen. Thad Cochran’s wife in order to damage his re-election campaign.[5]  Wilson was able to get the case against his client dismissed for failure to state a claim.[6]

Jurisprudence

Wilson has served on the Mississippi Court of Appeals since his appointment in February 2019.  In his time on the bench, Wilson has authored approximately twenty opinions, mostly on matters of criminal law.  For example, Wilson wrote for the Court in finding that the trial judge did not err in trying and convicting a defendant while he was not present, finding that the defendant was trying to willfully avoid trial.[7]  In contrast, in another case, Wilson reversed a conviction for possession of a controlled substance, finding that the indictment was defective.[8]

Political Activity

As noted earlier, Wilson was elected as a Republican to the Mississippi House of Representatives in 2015 and served until his appointment to the Court of Appeals in 2019.  Wilson also previously ran for the state legislature in 2007, albeit unsuccessfully.  During his campaign, Wilson identified himself as a “conservative consensus builder.”[9]  He also attacked his opponent for opposing the record of Gov. Haley Barbour,[10] crime policy,[11] and cuts in dyslexia funding.[12]

In addition to his campaigns, Wilson has extensive involvement with the Mississippi Republican Party, including serving as a volunteer during many Republican campaigns and serving on Republican organizations.[13] 

Speeches and Writings

As both a state representative and as a private citizen, Wilson wrote frequently on the law and policy, generally representing a conservative perspective on both.  Additionally, Wilson also maintains an active Twitter account.[14]  His tweets and his writings have already drawn sharp criticism from liberal groups.[15]  Specifically, Wilson has been criticized for calling for the reversal of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade,[16] and for referring to same-sex marriage as “a pander to liberal interest groups.”[17]

On his Twitter account, Wilson’s tweets are generally innocuous, describing the weather or celebrating major American holidays.  However, some of the tweets touch on more controversial topics.  For example, in a tweet on October 5, 2018, Wilson praises Sen. Susan Collins for supporting the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, praising her for rejecting “ugly tactics employed by the Left.”[18]  Similarly, the day before the 2018 election, Wilson wrote that the election was a choice between “#RepublicanResults, or unhinged Dem #Resistance.”[19]

Overall Assessment

Given Wilson’s public statements attacking his perceived political opponents, it is unsurprising that he has drawn controversy since his nomination and that his name has proceeded relatively slowly through the confirmation process.  That being said, given the Republican majority, Wilson is favored for confirmation.  Nonetheless, Democrats may raise questions as to Wilson’s willingness to consider with an open mind the legal arguments of parties he disagrees with.  If Wilson is able to rebut such concerns, he will likely get a bipartisan confirmation.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Cory Wilson: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] See id. at 87.

[4] Id. at 72.

[5] See Mayfield v. Butler Snow LLP, 341 F. Supp. 3d 664 (S.D. Miss. 2018).

[6] Id.

[7] Morales v. State, 2019 WL 3562031 (Miss. Ct. App. Aug. 6, 2019).

[8] Payne v. State, 2019 WL 2511477 (Miss. Ct. App. June 18, 2019).

[9] See A Time For Choosing, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVYGAn5Ddkw.

[10] See id.

[11] Cory Wilson on Crime, YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MvqKGgcVVQ.

[12] Cory Wilson (Unaired), YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDp-wvvs9_A.

[13] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 68-69.

[14] See Cory Wilson (@CoryWilsonMS), https://twitter.com/CoryWilsonMS.

[15] See, e.g., Alliance for Justice, Report on Cory Wilson (available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Cory-Wilson-Report-Final-1.3.20.pdf).

[16] See Mississippi Right to Life Candidate Questionnaire, available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wilson-Attachments-p489-493.pdf.

[17] Cory T. Wilson, When Tolerance Is Really ‘Zero Tolerance’, Press-Register, June 1, 2012, available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Wilson-Attachments-p200-201.pdf.

David Joseph – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana

The Western District of Louisiana faced a massive vacancy crisis early in the Trump Administration, with five vacancies on a court of seven judgeships.[1]  Over the past two years, the Administration has appointed four men to the bench.  Now, a fifth, U.S. Attorney David Joseph, has been tapped to fill the final vacancy on the court.

Background

David Cleveland Joseph was born in Dallas on May 6, 1977.  Joseph attended the University of Oklahoma, graduating in 2000.  He went straight from college into Louisiana State University Law School, getting his J.D. in 2003.  Joseph then clerked for Justice Jeffrey Victory on the Louisiana Supreme Court and for Judge John Parker on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana before joining the U.S. Army as a JAG Officer.[2] 

In 2008, Joseph joined the Dallas office of Fulbright & Jaworski LLP as a litigation associate.  After three years there and a year at Kane, Russell, Coleman & Logan, P.C., Joseph joined the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation as a Senior Attorney.[3]

In 2014, Joseph moved from Dallas to Lafayette, Louisiana, becoming a federal prosecutor under U.S. Attorney Stephanie Finley.  In 2018, upon the recommendation of Louisiana’s Republican senators, Joseph was nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate to replace Finley.  Joseph currently serves as the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Louisiana.

History of the Seat

Joseph has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.  The seat Joseph has been nominated for opened on November 30, 2017, with Judge Dee Drell’s move to senior status.  

In September 2019, Joseph was contacted by Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) to urge him to serve as a federal judge.[4]  Joseph subsequently interviewed before the White House in October 2019 and was nominated on December 2, 2019.  

Legal Experience

While Joseph has held a number of different positions throughout his legal career, his most prominent positions are those of U.S. Attorney and assistant U.S. attorney.  In the latter position, Joseph served as a federal criminal prosecutor, handling white collar crimes, firearm cases, and crimes committed on military bases.[5]  In particular, Joseph prosecuted Buddhist monk Khang Nguyen Le for stealing temple funds to gamble at a local casino.[6]  Le ended up pleading guilty and being sentenced to 30 months in prison.[7]  Joseph also prosecuted Ryan Taylor for manufacturing and detonating a chemical weapon at the Fort Polk Army Installation.[8]

As U.S. Attorney, Joseph leads an office of approximately forty attorneys in conducting both criminal prosecutions and civil defense of the United States.  Notably, Joseph’s office prosecuted Lake Charles police officer Robert Hammac for using excessive force during an arrest.[9]  In the prosecution, Joseph stated:

“…officers who betray the badge and the public’s trust, as the defendant did here, dishonor their profession and endanger the safety of their fellow officers.”[10] 

Among other prominent prosecutions of his time as U.S. Attorney, Joseph’s office indicted Donnie Laing for orchestrating a million dollar Ponzi scheme,[11] and prosecuted Gilvin Aucoin for poaching an endangered whooping crane.[12]

Overall Assessment

At 42 years old, Joseph is, by far, the youngest district court nominee put forward by Trump in Louisiana.  Nonetheless, Joseph has a fairly varied resume, with extensive litigation experience in both criminal and civil law.  

Joseph has generally managed to steer clear of controversy throughout his career, and his aggressive prosecution of poaching and police brutality should win him some Democratic support.  As such, Joseph will likely be confirmed fairly comfortably.


[1] Tyler Bridges, 42 Parish Area of Western Louisiana Suffers From Vacant Federal Judgeships, The Acadiana Advocate, Aug. 22, 2017, http://www.theadvocate.com/acadiana/news/article_dad54e68-8791-11e7-9cfc-678529cbf1c6.html.

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., David Joseph: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[3] See id.

[4] Id. at 42-43.

[5] See id. at 28.  

[6] Press Release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Buddhist Monk Pleads Guilty of Defrauding Temple of More than $263,000 (March 17, 2016).

[7] Press Release, Office of the U.S. Attorney, Buddhist Monk Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison For Defrauding Temple of More than $263,000 (July 25, 2016).

[8] United States v. Taylor, Case No. 17-CR-00324 (W.D. La.).

[9] See U.S. Attorney: Former Lake Charles Police Officer Sentenced to 18 Months in Federal Prison For Civil Rights Violation, States News Service, Nov. 21, 2019.

[10] See id. (quoting David Joseph).

[11] See Youngsville Man Indicted in Million Dollar Investment Fraud and Ponzi Scheme, States News Service, Nov. 21, 2019.

[12] See Man From Ville Platte Sentenced For Killing Endangered Whooping Crane, States News Service, Nov. 1, 2019.

Edward Meyers – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

Commercial litigator Edward Meyers is one of President Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, a court undergoing a significant amount of turnover in the last few years.

Background

Edward Hulvey Meyers was born in Washington D.C. in 1972.  Meyers received a B.A. from Vanderbilt University in 1995 and a J.D. from Catholic University Columbus School of Law in 2005, after spending the intervening years as an engineer.[1]  After law school, Meyers clerked for Judge Loren Smith on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims before joining the D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.[2]  In 2012, Meyers joined Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner LLP as a Partner, where he currently practices.

History of the Seat

Meyers has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC), an Article I court that hears monetary claims against the federal government.  Judges to the CFC are appointed for 15-year terms, and can be reappointed.  The seat Meyers was nominated for opened up on January 8, 2016, with Judge Lawrence Block’s move to senior status.  On January 23, 2018, President Trump nominated Federal Trade Commission member Maureen Ohlhausen to fill the vacancy.  While Ohhlausen’s nomination passed through the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party line vote, she did not receive a vote before the end of the 115th Congress.  In December 2018, Ohlhausen withdrew her nomination.[3]

In March 2019, Meyers was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in an appointment to the CFC.[4]  Meyers was nominated in October 2019.

Legal Activity

Meyers has spent his career at the firms of Kirkland & Ellis and Stein Mitchell Beato & Missner LLP.  At both firms, Meyers worked primarily in commercial litigation, generally representing corporations and other commercial entities in contract, securities, and other similar claims.  Over the course of his career, Meyers tried one jury trial and two bench trials.[5]  Notably, Meyers served as an attorney for a class of plaintiffs who filed suit against CVS Pharmacy, Inc. alleging the misrepresentation of generic drug pricing when submitting claims to insurance providers.[6]

In a more politically sensitive matter, Meyers represented Wisconsin entities targeted in “John Doe” investigations.[7]  The investigations targeted conservative entities who were alleged to have coordinated with Gov. Scott Walker in violation of state law.[8]  The investigations were eventually ended by the conservative majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, who held that state law did not regulate issue advocacy.[9] 

Overall Assessment

In comparison to many of Trump’s other nominees to the CFC, Meyers has extensive experience with the issues that come before the specialized court.  As such, while Meyers may face questions regarding his representation in the John Doe cases, he is unlikely to face much opposition en route to confirmation.


[1]  Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Edward Meyers: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Ryan Lovelace, FTC’s Ohlhausen to Join Baker Botts, Bypassing Judicial Nomination, Nat’l Law Journal, Dec. 6, 2018, https://www.law.com/nationallawjournal/2018/12/06/ftcs-ohlhausen-to-join-baker-botts-bypassing-judicial-nomination/.  

[4] See Meyers, supra n. 1 at 33.

[5] See id. at 11.

[6] Corcoran v. CVS Health Corp., No. 17-16996, — Fed. Appx. — (9th Cir. June 12, 2019).

[7] See Dee J. Hall, Targets Seek Stay of Investigation into Walker’s Recall Campaign, Other Groups; Three Unidentified Parties Want a Judge to Suspend the John Doe Inquiry, Wisc. State Journal, Nov. 20, 2013.

[8] See id.

[9] Wisconsin ex rel. Two Unnamed Petitioners v. Peterson, 363 Wis.2d 1 (2015). 

W. Scott Hardy – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Over the past two decades, W. Scott Hardy has built up a practice representing Western Pennsylvania entities in labor and employment disputes.  Now, with the support of Pennsylvania’s bipartisan team of senators, Hardy has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Background

William Scott Hardy was born in Pittsburgh PA in 1971.[1]  Hardy graduated magna cum laude from Alleghany College in 1993 and from Notre Dame University Law School in 1996.[2]  He spent a year at the Pittsburgh office of Meyer Unkovic & Scott LLP and then joined Cohen & Grigsby P.C., practicing Labor & Employment law.  In 2010, Hardy joined Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C., where he currently serves on the Board of Directors.[3]

History of the Seat

The seat Hardy has been nominated for opened on June 13, 2019, with Judge Nora Barry Fischer’s move to senior status.  

Hardy applied to the bipartisan judicial selection committee set up by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey in April 2019.[4]  Hardy interviewed with Toomey and Casey shortly after and was recommended to the White House in August 2019.  He was nominated in December 2019.

Legal Experience

Hardy has focused his career on labor and employment law, primarily representing businesses, non-profits, and governmental employers.  Overall, Hardy has litigated three jury trials to verdict.[5]  Notably, Hardy represented J.C. Penney in a civil jury trial in West Virginia.[6] 

Among Hardy’s most significant cases, he has represented a number of Western Pennsylvania corporations, universities, and hospitals in defending against labor, employment, and contract actions.  For example, he represented Waynesburg University in successfully defending against a racial discrimination claim filed by a former wrestling coach.[7]  He also represented Pennsylvania State University in defending against Title VII, ADA, and FMLA claims raised by administrators.[8]

Political Activity

Hardy is a Republican and has frequently donated to Pennsylvania Republicans, including Toomey and former Rep. Keith Rothfus.[9]

Overall Assessment

At a time of fierce partisanship over judicial nominations, Toomey and Casey have generally proven cooperative, plugging through the long list of Pennsylvania vacancies. Hardy is, thus, the product of a process that works.  As such, given his relatively noncontroversial career, Hardy will likely be confirmed in due course, without attracting much flash.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Scott Hardy: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 46.

[5] Id. at 30.

[6] Moyer v. J.C. Penney, Civil Action No. 09-C-368 (Circuit Ct. of Wood Cnty., WV) (Bean, J.).

[7] Heard v. Waynesburg University, No. 2:09-cv-01315-RCM (W.D. Pa.).

[8] Onesi et al. v. The Pennsylvania State University, No. 2:11-cv-00928-LPL (W.D. Pa.).

Judicial Nominations 2019 – Year in Review

2019 was one hell of a year for judicial confirmations.  Freed from the time-consuming schedule of a Supreme Court nomination, the Senate plowed through over 100 judicial confirmations, dramatically reshaping both the courts of appeals and district courts.  

Nominations and Confirmations

This year, the Senate confirmed 20 appellate judges and 80 district court judges (as well as two judges to the Court of International trade).  As such, President Trump has had 187 confirmations as of the third year of his presidency.  In comparison, President Obama saw 124 confirmations by the end of the third year of his presidency, President Bush saw 168, and President Clinton saw 175.

Failed Nominations

The expanded Republican majority in the Senate from the 2018 elections and the frequent absences of Democratic senators running for President have allowed Republicans to push through many nominees on narrow party-line votes.  As such, the Administration has been relatively successful at pushing through its nominees, even controversial ones.

Nonetheless, a handful of Trump nominees have been blocked from confirmation in 2019.  Namely, judicial nominees John O’Connor and Maureen Ohlhausen were not renominated at the beginning of the 116th Congress.  Furthermore, the nomination of Michael Bogren to the Western District of Michigan was withdrawn in the face of Republican opposition (similar opposition has stalled the nomination of Judge Halil Ozerden to the Fifth Circuit).  Additionally, Judge Thomas Marcelle, nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, withdrew due to failure to get blue slips from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.

Demographics of Confirmed Nominees

Let’s take a look at demographics of the 102 confirmed Trump appointees this year.

Age

In the past Congress, the average age of Trump’s appointees ranged between 50-51, in line with previous presidents.  This Congress, the average age of the Trump appointees is slightly younger at 49 years of age, which is still not too far from the presidential average.

The oldest Trump appointee tapped for the federal bench this year is Judge John Milton Younge, a Democrat who was first nominated to the federal bench by President Obama but blocked by Republicans.  Younge was 64 when confirmed.  The youngest was Judge Allison Rushing, who was just 36 when she was confirmed to the Fourth Circuit.

Race

Trump’s judicial confirmations continue to be overwhelmingly white, although the ratio has improved significantly since the previous congress.  Twenty of the 100 judges confirmed this Congress were non-white: seven Asian; six Hispanic; and seven African American judges respectively.

Gender

Of the 100 nominees confirmed this year, 26 are female: 5 appellate appointees and 21 district court appointees.  These numbers (26% female) are slightly better than the previous congress, where the appointees were around 22% female.  However, they still are lower than the 42% female figure President Obama managed to hit.

LGBTQ Identity

This year, the Senate confirmed two nominees who identify as members of the LGBTQ community: Judge Mary Rowland to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois; and Patrick Bumatay to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Looking Ahead

Largely due to rules changes muscled through by the enlarged Republican majority, President Trump has succeeded in dramatically reshaping the federal bench in 2019.  However, his success has reduced the number of nominees who would be expected to be confirmed next year.  When the Senate recessed, it left just five pending judicial nominees on the Senate floor.  Nonetheless, while all of Washington will spend much time absorbed in an impeachment fight next year, the senate will likely continue its processing of judicial nominees.

John Heil – Nominee to the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma

The Federal Courthouse in Lawton, Oklahoma

John O’Connor, a Tulsa based civil litigator in his 60s, was presumably considered a safe nominee when he was put forward in 2018 by the Administration.  However, questions were quickly raised about the nomination, including by the American Bar Association, and the nomination was withdrawn.  Now, his law partner John Heil has been nominated to fill the same vacancy.

Background

John Frederick Heil III was born in Lima, Ohio, in 1968.  Heil received a B.A. from Oklahoma State University in 1990 and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law in 1994.[1]  After graduating, Heil joined Ronald D. Wood & Associates before moving to the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office as a state prosecutor.

In 2000, Heil joined the Tulsa office of Hall Estill Hardwick Gable Golden & Nelson P.C. as a Shareholder.  It is a position he currently holds.

History of the Seat

Heil has been nominated for the only judgeship in the country that traverses three districts: the Eastern, Northern, and Western Districts of Oklahoma.  Judge James Payne, who previously held this seat, moved to senior status on August 1, 2017.  On April 12, 2018, the Administration nominated John O’Connor, another partner at Hall Estill, to fill this vacancy.  However, O’Connor’s appointment took a setback when the ABA rated him unanimously unqualified, citing alleged ethical impropreities in his billing practices.[2]  In response, the White House withdrew O’Connor’s nomination.

Heil himself had been considered during the initial nomination process that produced O’Connor but was not selected.  In June 2019, Heil reinterviewed with Senators James Inhofe and James Lankford, and was recommended to the White House in August 2019.  Heil was ultimately nominated on December 2, 2019.  

Political Activity

Heil has made occasional political donations, giving $1500 to Republican congressional candidate Tim Harris, who was Heil’s former boss at the Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office.[3] 

Legal Experience

Other than a short stint as a state prosecutor, Heil has spent his entire career in civil litigation, focusing on business litigation, employment, and intellectual property.  In his career, Heil has tried approximately 35 cases to verdict.[4] 

In his time at the Tulsa District Attorney’s Office, Heil handled drug, traffic, and violent crime cases, including the prosecution of Jared Henderson, a teenager who was charged with causing a fatal car wreck.[5]  He also prosecuted Robert Clark for deliberately running over a woman and killing her after a barroom argument.[6]

In his time in private practice, Heil represented a plaintiff injured after wind barriers were removed in her building, securing $1.2 million in damages for his client.[7]  He also secured $9 million in damages for his client in a contract dispute involving environmental restoration.[8] 

Overall Assessment

When O’Connor was nominated to this seat last year, we predicted a relatively painless confirmation given his age and level of experience.  His subsequent withdrawal reinforces the unpredictable nature of the confirmation process.  Nevertheless, Heil should feel fairly comfortable that, barring an unusual development, he will be on the federal bench in Oklahoma next year.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees: John Heil 1.

[2] Justin Wingerter, Federal Judge Nominee From Tulsa Has Bar Association Complaints, Was Sued By Client, The Oklahoman, Oct. 1, 2018, https://www.tulsaworld.com/news/federal-judge-nominee-from-tulsa-has-bar-association-complaints-was/article_2406fcb9-137e-5389-a1a8-f939129eebac.html.  

[4] See Heil, supra n. 1 at 14.

[5] See Teen-Ager Pleads Guilty to Causing Fatal Car Wreck, Daily Oklahoman, Nov. 3, 1998.

[6] See Jury Convicts Man Accused of Running Over Woman, A.P. State & Local Wire, May 21, 1999.

[7] Wilson v. University Mansion Ltd. Parntership, d/b/a University Club, et al., Case No. 17-CV-217 (N.D. Okla. 2017).

[8] OHM Remediation Srvs. Corp. v. Earth Tech, Inc., et al., Case No. 99-5029 (D.S.D. 2001).