Judge Stephanie Davis – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

Judge Stephanie Davis is one of two Michigan nominees nominated as part of a deal between the White House and Michigan’s Democratic Senators.  While the other nominee, Michael Bogren, was forced to withdraw due to Republican opposition, Davis has been widely approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, refreshing given her left-of-center background.


Davis was born Stephanie Renaye Dawkins in Kansas City Missouri in 1967.  Davis received a B.S. from Wichita State University in 1989 and her J.D. from the Washington University School of Law in 1992.[1]

After graduation, Davis joined the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC.[2]  In 1997, Davis joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan as a federal prosecutor.[3]  In 2010, newly appointed U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade chose Davis to be Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney.[4] 

In 2016, Davis was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in 2016 where she still serves.

History of the Seat

Davis has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  This seat opened on October 26, 2016, when Judge Gerald Rosen moved to senior status.  With the vacancy opening with only a couple of months left in the Obama Administration, no nominee was put forward to fill it.

In July 2017, Davis applied for the vacancy with a selection committee by Michigan Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters.[5]  Davis was recommended to the White House by the senators in December 2017.  After extensive negotiations, Davis was nominated on March 11, 2019.

Legal Career

Davis has held two primary positions in her pre-bench career.  From 1992 to 1997, Davis worked at the Detroit office of Dickinson Wright PLLC, where she focused largely on commercial litigation.  Then, from 1997 to 2016, Davis worked as a federal prosecutor, including as the Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney, the second in command to then-U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade, from 2010 to 2016.

Notably, Davis prosecuted Sohrab Shafinia, a Farmington doctor, for writing prescriptions for controlled substances in exchange for cash payments.[6]  She also helped prosecute Detroit officials for taking bribes and kickbacks and conspiring to defraud retirees.[7]

Political Activity

Davis’ political activity has exclusively been in support of Democrats.  For example, Davis served with the transition team of Detroit mayor Dennis Archer in 1993 and volunteered to conduct election protection for the Obama campaign in 2008.[8]  She also gave $250 apiece to the Obama campaigns in 2008 and 2012.[9]  Furthermore, Davis was a member of the American Constitution Society, an organization of left-leaning lawyers and law students, from 2008 and 2016, and served on the Board of the Detroit Chapter of the group between 2012 and 2015.[10]


Davis has served as a U.S. Magistrate judge since her appointment in 2016.  In this role, she handles settlement, discovery, and makes recommendations on dispositive motions.  She also presides over cases where the parties consent.  Between 2016 and 2019, Davis presided over sixteen civil cases that proceeded to judgment.[11]  Davis’s more prominent trials include a Computer Fraud Act case against a former employee who stole information before setting up a competitor,[12] and a bench trial arising from a traffic collision at Fort Meade.[13]  Additionally, in another matter, Davis denied summary judgment against Muslim plaintiffs who argued that they were denied calorically equivalent meals during their fasts for Ramadan.[14]

Overall Assessment

While fellow Michigan nominee Bogren faced scrutiny for his legal advocacy, Davis has received bipartisan support in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  As such, one can predict a relatively comfortable confirmation for the experienced jurist.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Stephanie Davis: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 58.

[6] Michigan Physician Guilty of Conspiracy to Distribute Controlled Substance, Targeted News Service, Sept. 3, 2009.

[7] Jury Convicts Former Detroit City Treasurer, Pension Officials of Conspiring to Defraud Pensioners Through Bribery, U.S. Fed News, Dec. 8, 2014.

[8] Id. at 40.

[10] See Davis, supra n. 1 at 4.

[11] See id. at 12.

[12] Am. Furukawa, Inc. v. Hossain, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 161650 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 29, 2017).

[13] United States v. McNeill, Traffic Violation No. 2359730.

[14] Conway v. Purves, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 128171 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 1, 2016), report and recommendation adopted, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127648 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 20, 2016) (Parker, J.).

Judge Kea Riggs – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

Judge Kea Riggs, a New Mexico state judge has been nominated for the federal bench with the support of her home state Democratic senators.  


Riggs was born Kea Lynn Whetzal in Midwest City, Oklahoma in 1965.  Riggs attended the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Law School, graduating in 1990.[1]

After graduation, Riggs spent a year with the Las Cruces firm Cutter & Riggs, P.C. and then became an Assistant District Attorney in New Mexico’s Third Judicial District. She then joined joined the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department as a Children’s Court Attorney for a year before joining the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.[2]  In 1999, she joined Sanders, Bruin, Coll & Worley P.A. as an Associate.[3]  In 2006, Riggs left the firm to become a self-employed mediator.[4] 

From 2001 to 2014, Riggs served as a part-time U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Mexico.  She became a Judge on the Fifth Judicial District Court in New Mexico in 2014 and currently serves there.

History of the Seat

Riggs has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.  This seat opened on February 7, 2018, when Judge Christina Armjio moved to senior status.  In April 2018, Riggs was one of four candidates recommended by New Mexico’s Democratic Senators to the White House.[5]  While Riggs was initially interviewed in May 2018, her formal vetting did not begin until February 2019.[6]  Riggs was nominated on May 3, 2019.

Legal Career

Riggs has held a number of different positions as an attorney, including serving as a mediator, state prosecutor, and in private practice.  However, overall, Riggs primarily practiced criminal law throughout her career, although she did handle some domestic and probate matters as well.[7]  By Riggs’ estimation, she has tried approximately 500 cases to trial and judgment.[8]  Interestingly, Riggs reports that virtually all of her litigation has been in state courts, not federal.[9]


Riggs has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on a part-time basis between 2001 and 2014 and as a District Court judge in New Mexico since her appointment in 2014.  In the former capacity, Riggs oversaw arraignments, bond hearings, and discovery disputes in federal court.  She also handled federal citations and misdemeanors.  For example, she fined a New Mexico man for hunting oryx in a federal wildlife refuge.[10]  In her latter role as a state judge, Riggs has handled both criminal and civil actions, including approximately 5000 bench trials.[11] 

Overall Assessment

As a Republican appointee with strong support from her Democratic home state senators, Riggs can be considered a consensus nominee.  While some may question Riggs’ experience (given her lack of practice in federal court), her long tenure on the bench and her lack of a controversial paper trail should ensure a smooth confirmation.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Kea W. Riggs: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 33-34.

[6] Id. at 34.

[7] See id. at 26-27.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 27.

[10] AP, NM Man Gets Probation for Wildlife Area Trespass, Associated Press State & Local Wire, Mar. 3, 2011.

[11] Riggs, supra n. 1 at 11.

Judge Robert Molloy – Nominee to the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands

The District Court of the Virgin Islands is a territorial court whose judges serve ten year terms.  Judge Curtis Gomez had his term expire in 2015, but is still sitting on the court due to the failure by Congress and the President to name a successor.  The nomination of Judge Robert Molloy offers the best chance in years for this court to gain a new judge.


Robert Anthony Molloy was born in Christiansted, St. Croix in 1975.  Molloy received his B.S. from Hampton University in 1997, his J.D. from American University Washington College of Law in 2003 and his MBA from American University Kogod School of Business in 2004.[1]  After graduating, Molloy clerked on the Circuit Court of Arlington County and for Judge Raymond Finch on the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands.[2]

After his clerkships, Molloy worked as an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of Collective Bargaining with the Virgin Islands Government.[3]  In 2013, he was appointed by Gov. John de Jongh Jr. to the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, where he currently serves.[4]

History of the Seat

The District Court of the Virgin Islands has two judgeships authorized.  Judge Jose Gomez, who was appointed by President Bush, saw his appointment expire in 2015.[5]  The Obama Administration declined to reappoint Gomez, but also refused to make another appointment, presumably due to unwillingness to expend energy on a pick likely to be blocked by the Republican Senate.[6]

In June 2018, Molloy was contacted by Anthony Ciolli, the President of the Virgin Islands Bar Association, to gauge his interest in the judgeship.[7]  After Molloy confirmed his interest, his nomination was sent to the White House by Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett, a Democrat.[8]  Molloy was nominated on May 29, 2019.

Political Activity

As a prosecutor in 2008, Molloy donated in support of the campaign of President Obama, giving $658.[9] 

Legal Experience

Molloy has spent his pre-bench legal career handling labor and employment matters for the Territorial Government as an Assistant Attorney General.  During his career, Molloy has tried 83 cases to verdict in bench trials but has not handled any jury trials.[10]  Notably, Molloy was part of the defense team that successfully argued that a Virgin Islands statute instituting an eight percent salary reduction on many territorial employees did not violate the Constitution.[11]


Molloy has served on the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands since 2013, where he has heard criminal, civil, and administrative cases.[12]  Molloy has also sat by designation with the Supreme Court of the Virgin Islands 10 times and has also sat with the Appellate Division of the District Court of the Virgin Islands.[13]  According to Molloy, he has presided over nineteen cases that proceeded to verdict or judgment, including thirteen jury trials.[14]

Among the most notable cases he handled, Molloy oversaw the first prosecution in the Virgin Islands for a prison guard having sexual relations with an inmate.[15]  In the case, Molloy upheld the statute criminalizing such conduct and held that it was not unconstitutionally vague.[16]  In another case, Molloy denied a motion to dismiss a class action based on a fungus infestation of plaintiffs’ property, holding that such an action was not preempted by federal law.[17]

Overall Assessment

Molloy has accomplished much in his relatively short legal career.  Despite not even being 45, Molloy has already served the better part of a decade on the territorial bench and is poised for elevation to the federal bench.  Given his political contributors and his backers, Molloy is likely a Democrat.  Nevertheless, the political cost to the Administration for nominating a Democrat is the least when it comes to a territorial court.  As such, Molloy’s expected confirmation should allow Gomez, who has now served four years past the end of his term, a chance to take a break and step down.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert A. Molloy: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 1-2.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Bernetia Atkins, Undercurrents: At District Court, They Also Serve Who Wait – For Replacement, The St. Thomas Source, Feb. 29, 2016, https://stthomassource.com/content/2016/02/29/undercurrents-at-district-court-they-also-serve-who-wait-for-replacement/.  

[6] See id.

[7] See Molloy, supra n. 1 at 52-53.

[8] Press Release, Congresswoman Stacey Plaskett’s Statement Regarding The Appointment Of Judge Robert Molloy To The United States District Court Of The Virgin Islands (May 29, 2019) (on file at https://plaskett.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=3517).  

[10] See Molloy, supra n. 1 at 40-41.

[11] United Steelworkers, et al. v. Gov’t of the Virgin Islands, 66 V.I. 631 (2012), rev’d, 842 F.3d 201 (3d Cir. 2015).

[12] See Molloy, supra n. 1 at 9-10.

[13] See id. at 10.

[14] Id.

[15] People of the Virgin Islands v. Whyte, Super. Ct. Crim. No. SX-13-CR-026, 62 V.I. 95 (Super Ct. 2015).

[16] See id. 

[17] Alleyne, et al.v. Diageo USVI, Inc., et al., 63 V.I. 384 (Super Ct. 2015).

Judge Frank Volk – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia

Judge Frank Volk currently serves as the Chief U.S. Bankruptcy Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  He has been nominated to replace his former boss Judge John Copenhaver.


A West Virginia native, Frank William Volk Jr. was born in Morgantown on November 10, 1965.  He graduated from West Virginia University in 1989 and received a Juris Doctor from the West Virginia University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating from law school, Volk clerked for Judge Charles Haden on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, for Judge M. Blane Michael on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, and for Justice Margaret Workman on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.[2]  After these positions, Volk joined Haden’s chambers as a Law Clerk, where he stayed for nine years.  He then moved to Judge John Copenhaver’s chambers, working as a Law Clerk there between 2004 and 2015.[3] 

In 2015, Volk was selected to be a federal bankruptcy judge, holding that position to the present.

History of the Seat

Volk has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia.  The seat opened on November 1, 2018, when Judge John Copenhaver moved to senior status.[4]  In June 2018, Volk sent his resume to West Virginia Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).[5]  After interviews with Capito, Manchin, and the White House, Volk was nominated on April 4, 2019.

Legal Experience/Jurisprudence

Volk has spent virtually his entire pre-bench legal career as a career law clerk, working for many of West Virginia’s most prominent jurists.  Notably, Volk worked for both Democrats, such as Michael and Workman, and Republicans, such as Haden and Copenhaver.  As such, he had significant experience in the workings of the court by the time he was appointed to the bench in 2015.  As a U.S. Bankruptcy Judge, Volk review federal bankruptcy filings and proceedings.  By his own account, Volk has presided over 6000 cases and over 3000 hearings.[6]  However, he has not presided over any trials.[7]

Notably, Volk presided over the bankruptcy and sale of the Charles Gazette-Mail, organizing the sale of the newspaper.[8]  He also approved the sale of the newspaper to H.D. Media, a Huntingdon based media company.[9]  In doing so, he rejected a rival bid from Ogden Newspapers, which announced that they did not wish to pursue the sale but did not formally withdraw their bid.[10]

Overall Assessment

It is not common to appoint U.S. Bankruptcy Judges to lifetime appointments.  It is also unusual to appoint career law clerks to the federal bench.  However, as a career law clerk who then became a bankruptcy judge, Volk brings a particularly unique resume for a lifetime appointment.  Strictly speaking, Volk should have little trouble being confirmed to the bench as he has the strong support of his home-state senators and a relatively uncontroversial record.  

The only hiccup, if any, may arise from his lack of litigation experience.  As Volk has acknowledged, his time as a career law clerk precluded him from the practice of law.  As such, Volk has never tried cases or even appeared as counsel of record throughout the bulk of his legal career.

Nevertheless, senators may find that Volk’s long experience working with Judge Haden and Copenhaver would more than make up for this lack of practice.  As such, this lack of litigation experience is unlikely to hamper Volk through the confirmation process.

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

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Judge Copenhaver was the last active district judge in the country appointed by President Gerald Ford.

[5] See Volk, supra n. 1 at 42.

[6] Id. at 9.

[7] Id.

[8] See Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Feb. 1, 2018.

[9] Lacie Pierson, Judge Delays Ruling on Bidding Process for Gazette-Mail, Charleston Gazette-Mail, Mar. 10, 2018.

[10] Id.

Douglas Cole – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio

A former Ohio State Solicitor General and attorney in private practice, Douglas Cole would join the bench with over twenty years of practice experience.


Cole was born in Janesville, WI in 1964.[1]  Cole received a B.A. from Ripon College in 1985, a B.S.E.E. from the University of Wisconsin College of Engineering in 1988 and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1993.[2]  Following his graduation, Cole clerked for Judge Frank Easterbrook on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.[3]

After his clerkship, Cole joined the Chicago office of Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.  Cole left in 1997 to become a Visiting Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Oklahoma College of Law and then, in 1998, joined Zeiger & Carpenter in Columbus as Of Counsel.[4]

In 2000, Cole became an Assistant Professor of Law at the Ohio State University Moritz School of Law.[5]  In 2003, he left when he was appointed State Solicitor General in Ohio.  Cole left the Solicitor General’s Office in 2006 when the Attorney General’s Office was taken over by Democrats, and joined the Columbus office of Jones Day as a Partner.[6]  In 2011, Cole left to become a Partner at Organ Cole in Columbus, where he still needs.

History of the Seat

Cole has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on May 31, 2018, when Judge Sandra Dlott moved to senior status.  However, he previously interviewed with the White House in 2017 in connection with the vacancy created by Judge Gregory Frost’s retirement.[7]  That seat was ultimately filled by Judge Sarah Morrison.

Cole reapplied for the Dlott vacancy with a selection commission put together by Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican.[8]  Cole interviewed with the Commission in late August of 2018, and with Portman in September.[9]  He was nominated in May 2019.  

Legal Experience

Cole has fairly extensive experience with litigation, having worked both in private practice and as Ohio’s Solicitor General.  Cole has practiced in state and federal court through his career, having tried eleven cases to verdict.[10] 

Private Practice

At the firms of Kirkland & Ellis, Zeiger & Carpenter, Jones Day, and Organ Cole, Cole has primarily worked in commercial litigation.  Notably, Cole represented Uber in a suit seeking to allow the company to operate in Hillsborough County.[11]  He also represented ProMedica in a suit seeking to invalidate a Federal Trade Commission ruling undoing a hospital acquisition in Toledo.[12]

State Solicitor General

From 2003 to 2006, Cole served as Ohio’s Solicitor General, working under Republican Attorney General Jim Petro.  In this role, Cole argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, winning three,[13] and losing two.[14]  The most notable of these cases was Cutter v. Wilkinson, in which Cole brought, on behalf of Ohio, a First Amendment challenge to the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).[15]  In the challenge, Cole argued that RLUIPA, by requiring all restrictions on the religious rights of state prisoners to be justified by a “compelling state interest” elevated religion above nonreligion and violated the First Amendment.  The Court rejected this argument in a unanimous opinion by Justice Ginsburg.[16]

Political Activity

Cole has been a generous donor to Republicans over the last 10-12 years.[17]  Notably, Cole gave $10,000 to Sen. Ted Cruz’s campaign in 2012, and $7700 to Ohio State Treasurer Josh Mandel (who ran against Sen. Sherrod Brown in 2012).[18]

Overall Assessment

With over twenty years of practicing law, Cole certainly meets the base level of qualifications for the federal bench.  Overall, given the stamp of approval from Sen. Brown, Cole is favored to be confirmed before the end of the year.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Douglas R Cole: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. 

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. 

[7] Id. at 36.

[8] Id. 

[9] See id.

[10] Id. at 18.

[11] See Hillsborough Cnty. PTC v. Uber Tech., Case No. 15-CA-3097 (Circuit Ct, Hillsborough Cnty., Florida).

[12] ProMedica Health Sys. v. FTC, 749 F.3d 559 (6th Cir. 2014).

[13] DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332 (2006) (holding that plaintiffs lack standing to challenge economic development plan by Ohio); Bradshaw v. Stumpf, 545 U.S. 175 (2005) (upholding guilty plea by Ohio inmate but reversing and remanding sentence); City of Littleton v. Z.J. Gifts D-4, LLC, 541 U.S. 774 (2004) (holding that due process rights of adult business barred from operating in Littleton was not violated).

[14] Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005) (holding that the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act does not violate the First Amendment); Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2004) (holding that prisoners may raise challenges to their parole hearings in a 1983 suit).

[15] Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709 (2005).

[16] Id.

[18] Id.

Jennifer Philpott Wilson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania

The scion of a well-established central Pennsylvania legal family, Jennifer Philpott Wilson has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.


Wilson was born Jennifer Marie Philpott in 1975 in Washington D.C..[1]  She was one of seven children born to Jerry and Sandra Philpott, with her father being a longtime attorney in central Pennsylvania.[2]  Wilson attended Swarthmore College, receiving a B.A. degree in 1997, and subsequently getting a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.[3]

After graduating, Wilson clerked for Judge Jon McCalla on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.[4]  After her clerkships, Wilson worked as an Associate at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City.  

In 2005, Wilson became a trial attorney with the Tax Division at the Department of Justice.[5]  She left in 2009 to join her father’s practice as a Partner in Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and still practices there.

History of the Seat

The seat Wilson has been nominated for opened on October 11, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Yvette Kane.  In July 2018, Wilson applied for a federal judgeship with the application committee set up by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).[6]  Wilson was jointly recommended to the White House on February 13, 2019 and was nominated on May 3, 2019.[7] 

Legal Experience

Wilson started her career by working at Chadbourne & Parke LLP in New York City, where she worked on civil matters in New York courts.  Then, from 2005 to 2009, Wilson worked for the Tax Division with the Department of Justice.  During this time, Wilson represented the U.S. in a key case seeking unpaid taxes hidden behind “Son of BOSS” tax shelters.[8] 

Since 2009, Wilson has been a Partner with her father in Philpott Wilson, primarily practicing criminal defense.  Most notably, Wilson represented Mark Ciaverella, a Wilkes-Barre judge who was convicted for accepting kickbacks in exchange for sending children to private children’s detention facilities (“Kids for Cash”).[9]  Wilson succeeded in convincing Judge Christopher Conner to reverse three counts of racketeering, racketeering conspiracy, and conspiracy on statute of limitations grounds.[10]


In 2000, as a law student, Wilson co-authored a note criticizing public entity lawsuits against tobacco and gun industries for harms resulting from their products.[11]  The note explains the legal basis for state claims against tobacco industries in the 1990s and the substantial settlements obtained therefrom.  It also criticizes such litigation by Attorneys General, arguing that legislation is a more appropriate avenue to regulate tobacco.[12]  It also suggests that such suits against the gun industry is “motivated more by the prospect of regulating the manufacturers and generating revenue through settlements than by a desire to redress past wrongs.”[13] All in all, the note is deeply critical of such lawsuits, and suggests that they be cut back in favor of legislative solutions.[14]

Political Activity 

Wilson had no noticeable political activity until 2018, when she gave $570 to the Republican Federal Committee of Pennsylvania.[15]  The same year, Wilson joined the Perry County Republican Committee.[16]  Interestingly, Wilson’s father, Jerry Philpott has donated consistently to Democrats, giving 31 contributions to Hillary Clinton and other Democrats since 2016.[17]

Overall Assessment

As most Pennsylvania district court nominees have generally been confirmed with bipartisan majorities, Wilson looks likely to do the same.  Nevertheless, she may attract some opposition based on her relative youth and her criticism of public entity lawsuits (a tactic generally supported across the aisle as a way to recover the costs of smoking).  Overall, given her support and endorsement by Republican Sen. Toomey and Democratic Sen. Casey, Wilson is unlikely to be considered controversial.

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

[2] See Attorney Profile, Philpott Wilson LLP, http://philpottwilson.com/jerry-philpott/3687394.

[3] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 1.

[4] Id. at 1-2.

[5] Id. at 2.

[6] See id. at 25-26.

[7] Id. at 26.

[8] See Jade Trading, LLC. v. United States, 80 Fed. Cl. 11 (2007).

[9] James Halpin, Ciavarella’s Trial Lawyers Admit Failing to Address Potential Key Issue, The Citizens’ Voice, Sept. 15, 2017.

[10] James Halpin, Judge Rules in Ciavarella’s Favor in Kids-For-Cash Appeal, The Citizens’ Voice, Jan. 8, 2018.

[11] Philip C. Patterson & Jennifer M. Philpott, In Search of a Smoking Gun: A Comparison of Public Entity Tobacco and Gun Litigation, 66 Brooklyn L. Rev. 549 (Summer/Fall 2000).

[12] See id. at 576-78.

[13] Id. at 602.

[14] See id. at 606-07.

[16] See Wilson, supra n. 1 at 12.

Judge David Tapp – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

Judge David Tapp is a longstanding state judge in Kentucky.  He has now been tapped, not for a seat on the federal bench in Kentucky (which has no vacancies currently) but, rather, to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC), a specialized court based in Washington D.C.


A native Kentuckyian, David Austin Tapp was born in Lexington in 1962.  Tapp received a B.A. from Morehead State University in 1983 and then joined the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office as a Deputy Sheriff.[1]  After stints as a loss prevention officer and as a social worker, Tapp received an M.A. from Chaminade University of Honolulu and a J.D. from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law.[2]

After law school, Tapp became a state prosecutor in Somerset, Kentucky.[3]  Two years later, he started his own law practice, working in criminal defense.  He held that position until he was elected to the state bench in 2004 (he was appointed to the Circuit Court by Governor Ernie Fletcher in 2005.)[4] 

History of the Seat

Tapp 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 Tapp was nominated for opened up on October 21, 2013, with the with the retirement of Judge Lynn Bush.  On April 10, 2014, Thomas Halkowski, a Principal in the Delaware office of Fish & Richardson, P.C. was nominated for the vacancy by President Obama.[5]  Halkowski and four other nominees to the Court were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously.  However, the nominations were blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who argued that the CFC did not need any more judges.[6]  Despite rebuttals from federal claims attorneys and Chief Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith, Cotton maintained his blockade, and the Obama Administration was unable to fill any vacancies on the Court, leaving six of the sixteen judgeships vacant.[7]

The Trump Administration nominated Stephen Schwartz on June 7, 2017 to fill this vacancy. However, Schwartz’s nomination ran into trouble due to concerns about his youth and lack of experience.[8]

For his part, in June 2018, Tapp was contacted by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to gauge his interest in an appointment to the CFC.  Tapp was nominated on March 5, 2019.


Tapp has been a circuit court judge in Kentucky since 2005, a trial court with some appellate jurisdiction over the lower level Kentucky District Court.  In his fourteen years on the bench, Tapp has overseen almost 20,000 cases, including approximately 225 jury trials.[9]

Among his most important rulings, in 2008, Tapp issued a restraining order barring the release of prisoners under a new Kentucky law allowing for such early release.[10]  The restraining order was prompted by a petition filed by prosecutor Eddy Montgomery, and was criticized by defense attorneys as being motivated by “a lack of political courage to do the right thing.”[11]  The criticism by local defense attorney Robert Norfleet sparked a bar complaint against him, and a subsequent motion by Norfleet to have Tapp recuse himself from all of his cases, noting that Tapp had frequently noted his “hatred” of Norfleet.[12]  Tapp’s injunction was ultimately partially reversed by the Kentucky Supreme Court after being affirmed by the Kentucky Court of Appeals.[13]

Political Activity

In 2018, Tapp ran for a seat on the Kentucky Supreme Court, but ultimately only took 25% of the vote, coming in third behind Kentucky Court of Appeals Judge Debra Hembree Lambert (who ultimately won the election) and fellow circuit judge Dan Ballou.

Overall Assessment

Given Tapp’s long history on the bench, he seems to meet the base level of qualifications needed for a federal appointment.  However, what is unusual is the court that Tapp has been nominated to.  It does not seem that Tapp has practiced extensively before the CFC or that his docket in Kentucky covers the subject matter that the CFC reviews.  As such, senators may question the specific court that Tapp has been tapped for, even if his legal credentials are beyond dispute.

[1]  Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., David A. Tapp: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] Id. at 1.

[3] Id.

[4] See id.

[5] Press Release, White House, Presidential Nominations Sent to the Senate (May 14, 2014) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office).

[6] Jordain Carney, Cotton Blocks Senate From Approving Federal Claims Judges, The Hill, July 14, 2015, http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/247934-cotton-blocks-senate-from-approving-federal-claims-judges.

[7] Daniel Wilson, Claims Court a Quiet Victim of Senate Nomination Deadlock, Law360, July 18, 2016, https://www.law360.com/articles/817931/claims-court-a-quiet-victim-of-senate-nomination-deadlock.

[9] See Tapp, supra n. 1 at 45.

[10] Heather Pyles, Defense Attorneys Decry Tapp Ruling: Norfleet, Stanziano Respond to Decision to Block Release of Prisoners or Parolees, Commonwealth Journal, Aug. 21, 2008.

[11] See id. (quoting Robert Norfleet).

[12] See Heather Pyles, Attorney, Local Judges at War, Commonwealth Journal, Sept. 20, 2008.

[13] Commonwealth v. Thompson, 300 S.W.3d 152 (Ky. 2010).