Judge Bernard Jones – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma

The Federal Courthouse in Lawton, Oklahoma

Judge Bernard Jones, while only forty, has already been on the bench for seven years.  His level of experience, alongside a relatively moderate record, should ensure a comfortable confirmation.

Background

Bernard Maurice Jones II was born in Oklahoma City in 1979.[1]  Jones attended Southern Methodist University in Dallas, graduating with a B.A. in 2001.  He then attended Notre Dame Law School, graduating in 2004.

After graduating, Jones joined Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP as an Associate.[2]  In 2006, he moved to Oklahoma City to be an Associate at McAfee & Taft.  In 2008, Jones joined the Oklahoma City University of Law as an Associate Dean.

In 2012, Jones was appointed to be a District Judge in Oklahoma by Governor Mary Fallin.[3] In 2015, Jones became a federal magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma.  He currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

The seat Jones has been nominated for opened on July 1, 2019, with Judge Joe Heaton’s move to senior status.  Jones applied to fill the vacancy in February 2019.[4]  After interviews with Oklahoma Senators James Inhofe and James Lankford, as well as with the White House and the Department of Justice, Jones was selected as a nominee in July 2019.  Jones was officially nominated on October 17, 2019.

Political Activity

Jones’ only political record is as a campaign worker for Democrat Tony Sanchez, who was running for the Governor of Texas in 2002.[5]

Legal Experience

Jones’ litigation experience before he became a judge was relatively brief, consisting of his stints in private practice between 2004 and 2008.  In this time, Jones tried two cases before a judge and one before a jury.  His sole jury trial involved a fraud case concerning commercial real estate, which ended in a jury verdict against Jones’ client.[6]

Jurisprudence

Jones has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma since 2015, and served as a state court judge from 2012 to 2015.  In his time on the bench, Jones has presided over approximately twenty cases that proceeded to verdict or judgment.

State Court

As a state court judge between 2012 and 2015, Jones handled both civil and criminal matters under Oklahoma law.  In one notable case, Jones was asked to order the replaying of the last sixty-four seconds of a high school football match in response to an alleged poor call by a referee.[7]  Jones ultimately denied an injunction in the case, finding that plaintiffs could not meet the extraordinary burden needed before requiring court intervention into high school football matches.[8] 

U.S. Magistrate Judge

As a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Jones oversaw pretrial detention and settlement matters, as well as offering recommendations to district court judges on substantive rulings.  In one case, Jones recommended that a plaintiff’s civil rights claims concerning denial of medical treatment be dismissed, which was accepted by the district court.[9]  The Tenth Circuit, however, reversed the dismissal, finding that the district court had erred in not allowing the plaintiff to amend his complaint.[10]

Writings

Jones has only one published article to his name.  In 2008, Jones wrote an opinion piece in favor of stricter bans of public smoking.[12]  The piece countered arguments that such bans infringed on people’s freedom, stating:

“We agree that freedom is of utmost importance, but the freedom we seek is for the 75 percent of Oklahomans who do not smoke.”[13]

Overall Assessment

Despite his youth and relative lack of litigation experience as an attorney, Jones is still likely to be an uncontroversial nominee.  This is partially because he has extensive judicial experience, but it is also because Jones has not made any high-profile rulings and has avoided associations with controversial stances.  As such, Jones is poised to join the Western District.


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

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Sheila Stogsdill, Fallin Names District Judge, The Daily Oklahoman, Sept. 18, 2012.

[4] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Bernard Jones: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 44-45.

[5] See id. at 34.

[6] Nudeal Enters. LLC v. Founder’s Tower Condos., LLC, CJ-2007-2454 (Okla. Cty. Dist. Ct. Mar. 26, 2007).

[7] Indep. Sch. Dist. No. I-89 of Okla. Cnty., Okla. v. Okla. Secondary School Activities Ass’n, CV-2014-2235 (Okla. Cty. Dist. Ct. Dec. 11, 2014).

[8] Scott Wright, Key Points in Judge Bernard Jones’ Ruling to Deny Douglass’ Injunction Request, The Daily Oklahoman, Dec. 11, 2014.

[9] See Gray v. GEO Group, Inc., 727 F. App’x 940 (10th Cir. 2018).

[10] See id.

[11] Campbell v. Jones, No. CIV-13-926-R, 2015 WL 3971674 (W.D. Okla. Mar. 31, 2015).

[12] Bernard Jones, Don’t Forget Nonsmoker’s Rights, The Oklahoman, Apr. 5, 2008.

[13] Id.

Grace Obermann – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) is seeing rapid turnover currently, largely the result of stalled nominations during the Obama Administration and unforced errors by the Trump Administration.  However, Grace Obermann, who is an administrative judge, should sail onto the CFC bench.

Background

Obermann was born Grace Stewart Karaffa in Rahway, NJ in 1961.  She received a B.A. from Rutgers University in 1984, and her J.D. from the George Washington University Law School in 1989.[1]  After graduation, Obermann joined Fish & Neave’s New York City Office.[2]

In 1990, Obermann completed a clerkship for Judge Raymond Clevenger on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit and then joined the Department of Justice Commercial Litigation Branch, rising to become Assistant Director of the Intellectual Property Section.[3]  In 2012, she moved to the McLean, VA office of Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey LLP, where she was of counsel.[4] 

In 2012, Obermann returned to D.C. to be an administrative patent judge with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.[5]  She currently holds that position.

History of the Seat

Obermann 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 Obermann was nominated for opened up on July 13, 2018, with the move to senior status of Judge Susan Braden.

In June 2019, Obermann’s name was forwarded by a former high school classmate to be considered for appointment to the CFC. Obermann interviewed with the White House in early July, and was nominated on October 3, 2019.[6] 

Legal Experience

Obermann’s career has largely focused on intellectual property law, approaching this from both the federal government and private practice sides.  In her career, Obermann has tried approximately 20 cases.  Among her more prominent cases, Obermann defended a patent infringement case filed by Exxon alleging that the United States had infringed its patents for synthesizing alternative fuels.[7]  After a grant of summary judgment in their favor and an appeal, Obermann’s client, the United States, ultimately settled the case for $2583, significantly less than the $400,000,000 value in open court.[8]

Judicial Experience

Since 2012, Obermann has served as an Administrative Patent Judge with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (PTO).  In this role, Obermann conducts administrative patent trials and resolves disputes and challenges.  Since 2017, Obermann has also sat on the Patent Trial and Appeal Board, which serves as an appellate review court for trial decisions.  In her tenure, Obermann has overseen over 300 trial proceedings.[9]

Overall Assessment

Obermann’s extensive experience with administrative law and particularly with issues of intellectual property should serve her well on this highly specialized court.  Unlike some other CFC nominees, Obermann likely will have few issues regarding experience and will be confirmed with bipartisan support.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See id.

[6] See Obermann, supra n. 1 at 47-48.

[7] Exxon Research & Eng’g Co. v. United States, 265 F.3d 1371 (Fed. Cir. 2001).

[8] See Obermann, supra n. 1 at 35.

[9] See id. at 12.

Judge Andrew Brasher – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Six months ago, Judge Andrew Brasher was narrowly confirmed to be a U.S. District Court Judge.  Now, the 38-year-old Brasher is ready to move on from the position to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Background

Andrew Lynn Brasher was born in Milan, TN on May 20, 1981.  Brasher moved to Alabama to attend Samford University, a private Christian University in Homewood, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2002.[1]  Brasher went on to Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 2006.

Upon graduation, Brasher clerked for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.[2]  He then joined the Birmingham office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP as an Associate.

In 2011, Brasher was appointed by Luther Strange, then the Attorney General of Alabama, to be Deputy Solicitor General.  Brasher served in that capacity until 2014 when he was appointed Solicitor General of Alabama.[3] 

In April 2018, Brasher was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, filling a longstanding vacancy opened by the resignation of Judge Mark Fuller.  Brasher was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-47 vote on May 1, 2019, and has served on the Middle District since then.

History of the Seat

Brasher has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat is being vacated by Judge Edward Carnes, who has a reputation as one of the most conservative judges on an already conservative court.

Legal Experience

Setting aside his clerkship, Brasher had two main legal jobs before he joined the federal bench: as an associate at Bradley Arant; and as Deputy Solicitor General and Solicitor General of Alabama.  During his time at Bradley Arant, Brasher worked in complex civil litigation, including product liability cases.  At the firm, he notably represented Republican Gov. Bob Riley in defending a controversial line item veto (later overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court).[12]

As the Deputy Solicitor General and Solicitor General of Alabama, Brasher defended Alabama laws and convictions before state and federal courts.  As such, Brasher argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In McWilliams v. Dunn, Brasher defended the imposition of the death penalty on James McWilliams, who alleged that he had serious mental health issues.[13]  McWilliams argued that Supreme Court precedent required him to have access to a defense expert to provide evidence of mental incapacity, which Brasher disputed.  The Supreme Court ultimately sidestepped the question of whether McWilliams was entitled to a defense expert, ruling instead that the judge erred in denying any expert examination of McWilliam’s mental state.[14] 

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, Brasher defended the constitutionality of Alabama’s state legislative districts.  The districts were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander intended to disenfranchise African American voters.[15]  Additionally, in Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transp., Inc., Brasher defended an Alabama tax on diesel for rail carriers while exempting competitor industries against charges that it was discriminatory.  The Court ultimately held that Alabama had violated federal law.[16]

In addition to his Supreme Court work, Brasher has also litigated extensively in Alabama state and federal courts.  Notably, Brasher defended the constitutionality of “admission privilege” requirements for abortion providers in Alabama, struck down by Judge Myron Thompson, and ultimately enjoined after the Supreme Court struck down a virtually identical law in Whole Woman’s Health.[17]  Brasher also successfully defended Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers against allegations that it violated the First Amendment.[18]

Jurisprudence

Brasher has served on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama since May 2019.  In the six months that he has served on the bench, Brasher has issued a number of orders and opinions in cases.  Many of the cases in which Brasher has authored opinions have been cases of employment discrimination.  In most of these, Brasher has sided with the employer, granting summary judgment in their favor in cases alleging racial,[19] age-based,[20] and disability-based discrimination.[21] 

However, Brasher has shown himself to be open to employee claims in some cases.  For example, in one case, Brasher allowed the sexual harassment claims of a male employee against Koch Foods to move to trial, noting that the employee had offered evidence that his female boss had terminated his employment shortly after he denied her sexual advances.[22]  Similarly, he granted summary judgment in favor of restaurant workers who were improperly denied minimum wages and overtime payments under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[23]

In other cases, Brasher ruled against a Dothan-based doctor who sued the federal government seeking refunds of tax payments,[24] and held that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) could not seek the maximum statutory penalty of disgorgement against corporations who had violated the Commodity Exchange Act.[25] 

Writings and Speeches

Setting aside the official positions he took as Alabama Solicitor General, Brasher had written and spoken extensively on legal and political issues before he joined the bench.  

Charitable Donations

On July 21, 2015, Brasher moderated a debate titled “Fat Cats and Philanthropists: How the IRS Governs Your Charitable Donations.”  The discussion was between Dr. Craig Holman from Public Citizen and Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation.[26]  While Brasher did not interject often in the debate, he did ask a couple of questions to each panelist.[27]

Federal Regulation

On February 4, 2017, Brasher served on a Federalist Society panel titled “Combating Federal Overreach.”[28]  The panel consisted of Brasher and the Solicitor Generals of Florida, West Virginia, and Texas, moderated by Allen Winsor, a former Florida Solicitor General who is now up for a federal judgeship.  Brasher specifically discussed the litigation over the EPA’s control of “navigable waters” as defined by the Clean Water Act and interpreted by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Brasher criticizes the rule as overly broad and beyond the statutory intent of Congress.  Later, Brasher also criticizes local regulations, noting:

“…oftentimes, you actually see a locality within a state that’s really, sort of, in league with the federal government against the state’s authority.”[29]

Same-Sex Marriage

In 2015, while defending Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court, Brasher wrote an article on the subject on SCOTUSBlog.[30]  In the piece, Brasher argues that the Supreme Court “should at least reject the argument that these laws serve no legitimate state interest.”[31]  Instead, he argued that states maintained a legitimate interest in limiting marriage to opposite sex couples, noting:

“I hope that . . . [the Court] does not malign the majority of voters in a majority of states as irrationally prejudiced.”[32] 

Death Penalty

Shortly after the Supreme Court narrowly upheld Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure in Glossip v. Gross, Brasher authored an article in SCOTUSBlog supporting the decision.[33]  In the article, Brasher argues that disputes about the method of administering the death penalty are actually about the legality of the penalty itself, stating:

“Why pretend these disputes are about a particular method of execution when they clearly go to the viability of capital punishment itself?”[34]

However, Brasher also acknowledges some of the arguments of death penalty opponents, noting:

“It is hard to argue that the death penalty is a strong deterrent when capital cases take twenty-five years to process.”

Redistricting

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down North Carolina’s redistricted maps in Cooper v. Harris, Brasher published an article critical of the decision.[35]  Brasher suggested that the decision would lead to more judicial intervention in redistricting without providing adequate standards for them to do so, and suggested that courts impose a requirement on plaintiffs to offer a map that would meet the partisan goals of the legislature.[36]

Political Activity

Brasher, a Republican, has worked as a volunteer on the 2010 campaigns of Luther Strange to be Attorney General and of Bradley Byrne (now a U.S. Representative) to be Governor of Alabama.[37]  Brasher also served on the Trump Transition Team, coordinating criminal justice policy with the incoming Administration.[38]

In addition, Brasher donated $300 to the Alabama Republican Party in 2015, his only notable political contribution.[39]

Overall Assessment

Despite Brasher’s significant experience with litigation, his youth and strongly conservative writings and experience made him a controversial nominee at the district court level and caused his nomination to sit for over a year before confirmation by a narrow vote.  Now, as an appellate nominee, Brasher may well have a faster confirmation, simply because Republicans tend to prioritize appellate nominees.  Nonetheless, Brasher’s brief tenure as a district court judge, as well as his youth and conservative ideology, is likely to make him a controversial nominee.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Kyle Whitmire, Federal Judge Mark Fuller Resigns, AL.com, May 29, 2015, http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/05/federal_judge_mark_fuller_resi.html.  

[5] Compare Pema Levy, Jeff Sessions has a History of Blocking Black Judges, Mother Jones, Jan. 9, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/jeff-sessions-blocked-black-judges-alabama/ with Mary Troyan, Judicial Vacancies in Alabama Pile Up, Montgomery Advertiser, April 22, 2015, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/alabama/2015/04/22/judicial-vacancies-alabama-pile/26166537/.  

[6] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates (Sept. 7, 2017) (on file at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/07/president-donald-j-trump-announces-seventh-wave-judicial-candidates).    

[7] Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, Trump Judicial Pick Did Not Disclose He is Married to a White House Lawyer, N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/us/politics/trump-judge-brett-talley-nomination.html?_r=0.  

[8] Zoe Tillman, A Trump Judicial Nominee Appears to have Written About Politics on a Sports Website and Didn’t Disclose It, Buzzfeed News, Nov. 13, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/a-trump-judicial-nominee-appears-to-have-written-about?utm_term=.lfJaLQm8G#.atjgYrER6.

[9] Mark Joseph Stern, Trump Judicial Nominee Brett Talley Appears to Have Defended “the First KKK” in Message Board Post, Slate, Nov. 15, 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/11/15/trump_nominee_brett_talley_appears_to_have_defended_the_first_kkk.html.  

[10] Zoe Tillman, The White House Says Two of Trump’s Controversial Judicial Nominees Won’t Go Forward, BuzzFeed News, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/trump-is-suddenly-facing-a-significant-republican-roadblock?utm_term=.bo9w8BdnA#.siJmaqzpA.  

[11] See Brasher, supra n. 1 at 40-41.

[12] McWilliams v. Dunn, 137 S. Ct. 1790 (2017).

[13] Alabama et al. v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Service, et al., No. CV-16-00593 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 29, 2016).

[14] See id.

[15] See 135 S. Ct. 1257 (2015).

[16] 135 S. Ct. 1136 (2015).

[17] See Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, 2:13cv405-MHT (M.D. Ala.).

[18] Alabama Democratic Conference v. Attorney Gen., 838 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 2016).

[19] James v. City of Montgomery, Case No. 2:17-cv-528-ALB, 2019 WL 3346530 (M.D. Ala. July 25, 2019).

[20] See Knowles v. Inzi Controls Alabama, Inc., Case No. 1:17-cv-839-ALB, 2019 WL 4551609 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 19, 2019).

[21] See Hughes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Case No. 2:17-cv-225-ALB, 2019 WL 6048878 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 14, 2019).

[22] See Fuller v. Koch Foods, Inc., Case No. 2:17-cv-96-ALB, 2019 WL 3072633 (M.D. Ala. July 12, 2019).

[23] See Moulton v. W.W.I., Inc., Case No. 1:18-cv-67-ALB, 2019 WL 3558032 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 5, 2019).

[24] Turnham v. United States, 383 F.Supp.3d 1288 (M.D. Ala. 2019).

[25] U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Dinar Corp., Inc., Case No. 1:15-cv-538-ALB, 2019 WL 3842069 (M.D. Ala. May 30, 2019).

[26] Andrew Brasher, Fat Cats and Philanthropists: How the IRS Governs Your Charitable Donations (July 21, 2015) (video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1tFCp-rYGQ).  

[27] Id. at 41:22.

[28] Andrew Brasher, Combatting Federal Overreach (Feb. 4, 2017) (video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-71pu5xnOA).

[29] Id. at 1:19:45.

[30] Andrew Brasher, Good Faith and Caution, Not Irrationality or Malice, SCOTUSBlog, Jan. 16, 2015, http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/01/symposium-good-faith-and-caution-not-irrationality-or-malice/.

[31] See id.

[32] Id.

[33] Andrew Brasher, The Death Penalty Lives to Fight Another Day, SCOTUSBlog, June 29, 2015, http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/06/symposium-the-death-penalty-lives-to-fight-another-day/.  

[34] Id.

[35] Andrew Brasher, A Recipe for Continued Confusion and More Judicial Involvement in Redistricting, SCOTUSBlog, Mar. 23, 2017, http://www.scotusblog.com/2017/05/symposium-recipe-continued-confusion-judicial-involvement-redistricting/.  

[36] Id.

[37] See Brasher, supra n. 1 at 20.

[38] See id.

Judge Barbara Jongbloed – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut

Barbara Jongbloed, a judge for Connecticut’s Superior Court since 2000, has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.  While Jongbloed is a registered Democrat, this is her second nomination by a Republican executive, having been tapped for state court by Gov. John Rowland.

Background

Jongbloed was born in Washington D.C. in 1959.  She earned her B.A. from Lawrence University in 1981 and her J.D. from New York University School of Law in 1984.  After graduating law school, she clerked for U.S. District Judge T. Gilroy Daly, before joining Day Berry & Howard in Stamford, Connecticut.  In 1987, Jongbloed moved to the public sector as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, staying in the office for thirteen years, the last two as criminal chief.  In 2000, Jongbloed was nominated by Rowland to become a Superior Court Judge in New London, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Jongbloed was nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on October 15, 2019.  The vacancy opened on August 31, 2018, with Judge Alvin Thompson’s move to senior status.

In August 2018, Jongbloed applied for the judgeship with Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats.  They recommended Jongbloed to the White House in March 2019.  

Legal Career

Jongbloed’s primary experience before becoming a judge was as a federal prosecutor.  Over the thirteen years she was at the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Jongbloed tried 14 cases to verdict.  Jongbloed was co-counsel with fellow Connecticut federal judge Kari Dooley in the prosecution of Stewart Leonard, who was sentenced to 52 months in federal prison for embezzlement.[1]  She also prosecuted Greenwich Acupuncture Center and its owners for various forms of fraud.[2] 

Jurisprudence

Jongbloed has served as a Judge on the Connecticut Superior Court since 2000, when she was appointed by Republican Gov. John Rowland.  In the past 19 years, Jongbloed has presided over approximately 105 cases that have proceeded to verdict and judgment.  Among these, Jongbloed has not hesitated to issue long sentences in criminal cases where she deems it appropriate.  For example, she sentenced Dante Hughes, who shot a good samaritan who was attempting to intervene in a domestic dispute, to 50 years in prison.[3]  Similarly, she sentenced George Leinart to the mandatory sentence of life for capital felony for the death of a 15 year old girl,[4] and sentenced Mozzelle Brown to 56 years in prison for the murder of physicist Eugene Mallove.[5]  In fact, the two cases in which Jongbloed was reversed over her tenure as a judge, both involve rulings in favor of the prosecution which were overruled by the Connecticut Supreme Court.[6]

Overall Assessment

Jongbloed’s status as a Democrat nominated by Trump will likely be enough to satisfy partisans on either side to let her move through without a fight.  Nonetheless, setting aside party affiliation, Jongbloed has extensive experience both as an attorney and as a state court judge, which should quell concerns about her jurisprudence.


[1] See United States v. Stewart J. Leonard Sr., et al., 37 F.3d 32 (2d Cir. 1994).

[2] United States v. Greenwich Acupuncture Cntr., et al., No. 5:91CR00040 WE (D. Conn. 1991).

[3] State v. Dante Hughes: KNL-CR16-335957.

[4] Karen Florin, A ‘True Predator’ Removed From Society: Judge Sentences Leniart to Life in Cold-Case Murder, The Day, June 23, 2010.

[5] Karen Florin, Mozzelle Brown Sentenced to 58 Years For Mallove Murder, The Day, Jan. 6, 2015.

[6] Compare State v. Jean Jacques, 332 Conn. 271 (2019) and State v. Chihan Eric Chyung, 325 Conn. 236 (2017).

Patrick Bumatay – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Patrick Bumatay was originally nominated last year, amidst much self-congratulatory fanfare, for the Ninth Circuit, with many noting that Bumatay, if confirmed, would be the first openly LGBT circuit judge on the territorial courts of appeals.  However, the opposition of California’s Democratic Senators downgraded Bumatay’s nomination to the district court level.  However, with his nomination still stalled, the White House has tapped Bumatay again for the Ninth Circuit.

Background

Patrick Joseph Bumatay was born on February 14, 1978.  As a college student, Bumatay interned for the consulting company run by Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (now Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President).  Bumatay attended Yale University and then Harvard Law School.  He then clerked for Judge Sandra Townes on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and for Judge Timothy Tymkovich on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

After his clerkships, Bumatay joined Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason Anello & Bohrer P.C. in New York.  In 2012, Bumatay moved to San Diego to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, where he still works.  However, since 2017, Bumatay has been on detail with the Department of Justice, working in the Attorney General’s office.

History of the Seat

Bumatay has been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to fill a seat being vacated by Judge Carlos Bea.  Bumatay was previously nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated by Judge Alex Kozinski on October 10, 2018.  However, due to the opposition of California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, Bumatay was renominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on September 30, 2016, by Judge Marilyn Huff’s move to senior status.  Instead, President Trump nominated Dan Bress, a D.C. based attorney, to the Kozinski seat (Bress was subsequently confirmed).  However, Bumatay’s nomination to the District Court didn’t move either, potentially because of blue slip issues.  Instead, he was once again tapped for the Ninth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Bumatay has spent his career in two primary positions, at the firm of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason Anello & Bohrer P.C. and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California.  In the former position, Bumatay worked on both regulatory and litigation matters, including representing the asset management firm GAMCO in defending against a suit filed by account holders who lost money through GAMCO’s investment in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.[1] 

As a federal prosecutor, Bumatay tried eight criminal cases to verdict, focusing largely on drug and immigration cases.  For example, Bumatay tried a number of defendants for the maritime drug trafficking of cocaine.[2]  Bumatay also prosecuted Nicholas Zakov for smuggling Mexican citizens into the United States in his trunk (both citizens unfortunately passed away during the journey).[3]

Since 2017, Bumatay has been on detail at the Department of Justice, where he has overseen criminal and civil policy in the Attorney General’s and Deputy Attorney General’s Offices.

Political Activity

While in college, Bumatay was a member of Yale’s Conservative Party.[4]  Notably, Bumatay, as a college student, was sharply critical of affirmative action, mocking proponents by stating:

“…all men are created equal — unless they are Asian or white.”[5]

Later, Bumatay became co-president of the Yale College Republicans, and supported Republican candidates in New Hampshire.[6]  He also defended President Bush’s grades in college, stating:

“Grades that he got from 25 years ago will not reflect how well he can lead the country.”[7]

Bumatay has also donated to the campaigns of Bush in 2003 and Romney in 2011 and 2012.[8]

Overall Assessment

The White House and California’s Democratic Senators have already had some public clashes over the three California Ninth Circuit nominees confirmed so far.  They are similarly clashing over Bumatay.  Nevertheless, at a time when partisanship on judicial nominees has reached an all-time high, it may be sufficient for Republican senators that Bumatay is a Republican nominated by Trump, which should lead to his confirmation.


[1] See Rioseco v. Gamco Asset Mgmt., Inc., No. 15862/10 (N.Y. Super. Ct., Westchester Cty., Comm. Div. Sept. 23, 2011).

[2] See United States v. Valdez-Medina, 15CR0336-JAH (S.D. Cal. Nov. 22, 2016); United States v. Cedeno-Cedeno, 14CR3305-L (S.D. Cal. Aug. 23-30, 2016).

[3] United States v. Zakov, 14CR2363-AJB (S.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2015).

[4] Hyorim Suh, Yale Profs Debate Affirmative Action With Harvard Teachers, Yale Daily News, Oct. 12, 1999.

[5] See id.

[6] Perry Bacon, Yale Students Hit the Campaign Trail in New Hampshire, Yale Daily News, Oct. 25, 1999.

[7] Brigitte Greenberg, Magazine Publishes Bush’s Alleged Grades, Associated Press, Nov. 10, 1999.

Justice Barbara Lagoa – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Barbara Lagoa, a Justice on the Florida Supreme Court, would be Trump’s first nonwhite nominee to the Eleventh Circuit, and would flip the court to being evenly divided between the genders, a rare case of gender progress on the bench in the last few years.

Background

Barbara Lagoa was born in Miami in 1967.  After getting a B.A. with honors from Florida International University, Lagoa joined Columbia University Law School, graduating in 1992.  After graduating, Lagoa worked in private practice in Miami, moving between the firms of Morgan Lewis & Brockius LLP, Schulte Blum McMahon Joblove & Haft, Cohen Berke Bernstein Brodie & Kondell, P.A., and Greenberg Traurig.

In 2003, Lagoa became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  In 2006, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida.  In 2019, she was elevated by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Lagoa was tapped for a Florida seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Stanley Marcus.  Notably, Lagoa was nominated only months after she joined the Florida Supreme Court.

Legal Experience

Before she became a judge, Lagoa gained experience in both civil and criminal law, working in private practice and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  However, perhaps the most prominent case that Lagoa handled was her representation of Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami-based great uncle of Elian Gonzalez.[1]  Gonzalez left Cuba with his mother and her boyfriend, who both died during the boat journey into Florida.[2]  The push to return Gonzalez to Cuba caused significant partisan conflict as well as intervention by both Congress and the Clinton Administration.[3]  In representing the family, Lagoa represented them in the media and court proceedings seeking to block Elian’s removal to Cuba.[4]  Elian was ultimately returned to his father’s family in Cuba after intervention by Attorney General Janet Reno after court intervention was rejected.

Jurisprudence

Lagoa has served on the Florida Supreme Court for approximately eight months, before which she was a judge on the Court of Appeal of Florida for thirteen years.  On both courts, Lagoa has developed a conservative jurisprudence.  Her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019, alongside that of Judges Carlos Muniz and Robert Luck, flipped the court from a liberal majority to a conservative one.  This new conservative majority reversed several decisions made by the previous majority, with the only holdover majority judge, Judge Jorge Labarga, in dissent.[5]

For example, in one case, Lagoa joined 6-1 majorities in reversing two 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decisions: one that upheld Orange County election code that allowed officials to be elected in nonpartisan elections; and one that handled attorney-fee disputes in a foreclosure battle.[6]  In a different case, Lagoa joined the majority in reversing another 4-3 Florida Supreme Court ruling and allowing Florida legislative standards for expert witnesses to be entered, even as her fellow conservative Robert Luck excoriated the court for failing to follow proper procedures in reversing itself.[7]

Overall Assessment

With extensive experience as an appellate judge and as a Supreme Court justice, Lagoa is certainly well-qualified for an appellate seat.  While she may draw questions about her conservative jurisprudence, it is likely to be expected that this Administration will put out conservative candidates.  As such, Lagoa would likely be confirmed fairly comfortably.


[1] Tom Raum, Capitol Hill Wary on Cuban Boy, A.P. Online, Jan. 27, 2000.

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See, e.g.,  Wolf Blitzer, Mark Potter, Federal Court Begins Examining Complicated International Custody Battle Over Elian Gonzalez, CNN The World Today, Mar. 9, 2000.

[5] See Florida Politics, Reversals Show New Day on Supreme Court, State Capital Newsfeed, Apr. 19, 2019.

[6] See id.

[7] What’s Up With Florida’s New Supreme Court? This Case Helps Explain,  Tampa Bay Times Blogs, May 24, 2019.

Stephen Vaden – Nominee to the U.S. Court of International Trade

The U.S. Court of International Trade is a specialized court that hears cases involving international trade and customs laws, but whose judges, nonetheless, sit for lifetime appointments.  While nominees to the court generally attract less opposition due to the court’s specialized nature, there are always exceptions.  Stephen Vaden, who has already had one tough confirmation through the Senate, will likely face questions for his youth, lack of experience, and rocky tenure in his current position.

Background

A native Tennessean, Stephen Alexander Vaden was born in Memphis in 1982.  Vaden grew up in Union City, Tennessee, where his father ran a family farm.[1]  Vaden attended Vanderbilt University and then attended Yale Law School, graduating in 2008.[2]  After graduating, Vaden clerked for Judge Julia Smith Gibbons on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and then for Judge Samuel Mays on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.[3]

After his clerkships, Vaden joined the Washington D.C. office of Patton Boggs as an Associate.[4]  In 2014, Vaden moved to Jones Day in Washington D.C. as an Associate.[5]

In 2017, Vaden was nominated to be General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and serving as acting General Counsel during his nomination.[6]  However, his nomination was criticized by Democrats for his work defending voter restrictions in Ohio and North Carolina.[7]  After passing out of Committee, Vaden’s nomination sat on the floor for months before being confirmed on a 53-46 vote.[8]  He currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Vaden has been nominated for a seat vacated by Judge Delissa Ridgeway, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, on January 31, 2019.  

In April 2019, Vaden was contacted by the White House to discuss a judicial appointment.[9]  Vaden interviewed with the Department of Justice and was nominated on October 2, 2019.  

Political Activity

Vaden is a Republican with a long history of contributions to the Tennessee Republican Party.[10]  In addition, Vaden has also given to other Republicans, including his sponsor Rep. David Kustoff.[11] 

Additionally, while in law school, Vaden was President of the Yale Law Republicans, where he opposed the military’s Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policies.[12]

Legal Experience

Before he started at the Department of Agriculture, Vaden worked at the firms of Patton Boggs and Jones Day, where he handled litigation.  During his tenure there, Vaden argued the case of Lilliputian Sys. Inc. v. Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Admin. Before the D.C. Circuit, in which he persuaded the Court to overturn federal regulations on carrying fuel cell cartridges on passenger flights.[13]  He also represented amicus parties in defending voter restrictions passed by North Carolina and Ohio.[14] 

Since 2017, Vaden has served as General Counsel to the Department of Agriculture.  Vaden’s nomination to the position came under criticism from sources who argued that Vaden was reassigning career appointees and Democrats to jobs in other parts of the country.[15]  He was also criticized for being “intransigent” and hurting morale among Department attorneys.[16] 

Vaden was also implicated in the widely criticized decision by USDA to relocate the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food Agriculture to Kansas City.[17]  The decision was criticized for being politically motivated and for forcing workers to quit.[18]  The move was also lambasted by the Department’s Inspector General, who argued that it violated laws requiring congressional approval before spending money to relocate offices.[19]  In response, Vaden justified the decision in a memo, stating:

“USDA is not required to abide by unconstitutional laws.”[20]

Overall Assessment

While nominations to the Court of International Trade are usually non-controversial, Vaden is likely to draw opposition.  Specifically, Vaden is likely to draw questions regarding his tenure at the Department of Agriculture, his contention that the Department can ignore laws it deems to be unconstitutional, as well as his participation in lawsuits defending voter restrictions.  He is also likely to face questions about his youth and his lack of experience litigating issues of International Trade or appearing in court.  Vaden has not practiced before the Court of International Trade at all, and, by his own account, has only argued in court once in his entire career.  As such, at a time when Trump nominees are drawing criticism for their lack of experience, Vaden will likely face the same scrutiny.


[1] Press Release, Office of Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessean Stephen Vaden Has The “Hands-On Experience’ To Be Agriculture Department General Counsel (Nov. 9, 2017).

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Stephen Vaden: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] Id. at 2.

[5] Id.

[6] See Alexander, supra n. 1.

[7] Lead Lawyer for Agriculture Comes Under Democratic Fire, Congressional Quarterly News, Nov. 9, 2017.

[8] Tennessee Attorney Confirmed as USDA’s General Counsel, A.P. State & Local, Nov. 28, 2018.

[9] See id. at 25.

[10] See Vaden, supra n. 1 at 10.

[12] Thomas Kaplan, Yale Law, Newly Defeated, Allows Military Recruiters, N.Y. Times, Oct. 1, 2007.

[13] 741 F.3d 1309 (D.C. Cir. 2014).

[14] See Ohio Democratic Party v. Husted, 834 F.3d 620 (6th Cir. 2016); N. Carolina State Conference of NAACP v. McCrory, 831 F.3d 204 (4th Cir. 2016).

[15] Morning Agriculture, Vaden Advances, So Does Related Controversy, Politico, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.politico.com/newsletters/morning-agriculture/2017/12/12/vaden-advances-so-does-related-controversy-047706.  

[16] Vaden Causes Concern Within USDA, The Frontrunner, Dec. 5, 2017.

[17] Gregory Wallace, USDA May Have Violated Law in Controversial Office Relocation Decision, Inspector General Says, CNN, Aug. 6, 2019.

[18] See id.

[19] See id.

[20] Id. (quoting Stephen Vaden).