Karen Gren Scholer – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas

Compared to previous presidents, President Trump has nominated fewer women and racial minorities to the bench.  As such, the nomination of Karen Gren Scholer is notable: as Scholer is not a former nominee of President Obama, but is an Asian American woman.

Background

Scholer, nee Karen Anne Gren, was born in 1957 in Tokyo, Japan.  Scholer received a Bachelor of Arts at Rice University in 1979 and a Juris Doctor from Cornell University Law School in 1982.  After graduating from law school, Scholer joined the Dallas law firm Strasburger & Price, LLP. as an Associate.  In 1989, Scholer was named a Partner at the firm.

In 1996, Scholer left Strasburger & Price to join Andrews & Kurth LLP. as a partner.  She served as Partner for four years, and as Of Counsel for a few months.  In 2000, Scholer was elected as a Republican to the 95th Judicial District Court in Dallas.  Scholer was re-elected unopposed in 2004.

In 2009, Scholer left the bench to join the Dallas office of Jones Day as a Partner.  In 2014, she left Jones Day to become a Principal at the firm Carter Scholer PLLC.  She currently serves in that capacity.

In 2014, Scholer also began work as an arbitrator and mediator for the American Arbitration Association.  She also serves in that capacity presently.

On July 30, 2014, Scholer applied to Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.  In April 2015, Scholer also applied for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas.  After interviews with the Obama Administration and Democratic Representatives Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson, Scholer was nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas on March 15, 2016.[1]  Scholer’s nomination had the support of Cornyn and Cruz[2] but attracted opposition from East Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert due to Scholer’s base in Dallas.[3]  While Scholer received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, her nomination was never approved and died at the end of the Obama presidency.

History of the Seat

Scholer has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas.  The Northern District is facing a high level of turnover, with four of the twelve allotted judgeships for the District currently vacant, and a fifth scheduled to open later next year.  The high level of vacancies have been exacerbated by the Republican Senate’s failure to confirm three Obama nominations to the Northern District in the 114th Congress.

The vacancy Scholer has been nominated to fill opened on May 1, 2016, when Judge Jorge Antonio Solis moved to senior status.  On March 15, 2016, Obama nominated James Wesley Hendrix, the 39-year-old appellate chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas to fill the vacancy.[4]  While Hendrix had the support of his home state senators and received a hearing in September 2016, his nomination never moved to the floor and thus was not confirmed.  Hendrix was not renominated to the Court by President Trump.

After the election of President Trump, Scholer applied again for the vacancies on the Eastern and Northern Districts of Texas.  Upon Cornyn and Cruz’s recommendation, Scholer was interviewed by the White House in May 2017, and officially nominated on September 7, 2017.

Legal Experience

Scholer has spent virtually her entire legal career as a civil litigator.  In her initial position at Strasburger & Price LLP., Scholer focused on personal injury cases, specializing in the defense of product liability cases.  For example, Scholer was part of the defense team in a product liability action against General Motors based on allegedly defective three-point seatbelts in the backseats.[5]  Scholer also defended Budget Rent a Car in a personal injury action over an injury caused by a falling suitcase on a shuttle bus.[6]  Scholer continued this product liability work as a partner at Andrews & Kurth LLP.

After her eight years on the bench, Scholer joined the Dallas office of Jones Day as a partner in the complex tort and product liability section.  In this role, Scholer primarily handled the defense of Yamaha in a multi-district product liability action based on the defective design of the Yamaha Rhino off road vehicle.[7]

As a named partner at Carter Scholer PLLC., Scholer handles business tort and personal injury litigation.  Scholer also occasionally represents plaintiffs, notably representing the victim of a slip-and-fall to a successful settlement.[8]

Jurisprudence and Reversals

Scholer served two four year terms as a judge on the 95th Judicial District Court in Dallas.  In this role, Scholer presiding over civil cases in Dallas, including contract and tort cases.  Scholer was also briefly appointed by Governor Rick Perry to serve on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals of Texas for a single case.

Of Scholer’s more prominent cases, she presided over a medical malpractice trial where the plaintiff alleged that the defendant had negligently removed fat and skin creating infection in her sutures.[9]  Scholer presided over a jury verdict for the plaintiff in $291,000 in damages.  Scholer also presided over a jury verdict to the plaintiff in an unsafe workplace case brought by the employee of a public utility company.[10]  Scholer denied a defense motion for a new trial and entered judgment for the plaintiff.[11]

In her eight years on the bench, Scholer’s opinions have been reversed or criticized by a higher court in 19 cases.  On these, two are particularly notable:

City of Dallas v. VRC, LLC. – In this case, a towing company filed suit against a Dallas ordinance setting rates for non-consensual towing of vehicles, alleging that the rates were too low, and constituted a “regulatory taking.”[12]  The City argued lack of jurisdiction due to governmental immunity, and lack of ripeness.[13]  Scholer ruled against the City on both claims, allowing the case to move ahead.[14]  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of Texas reversed, finding that there was no viable regulatory takings claim under either state or federal law.[15]

Ferguson v. Building Materials Corp. of America – This case involved a personal injury suit brought after an eighteen wheeler crashed into a building which collapsed on the plaintiff.[16]  Scholer granted summary judgment to the defendants in the case, finding that the plaintiff’s claims were judicially estopped.[17]  While the Fifth Circuit affirmed Scholer, the Texas Supreme Court reversed in a per curiam decision.[18]

Political Activity

Scholer has a long history with the Republican party, having been elected twice as a Republican to the state bench.  Scholer has also volunteered with the Travis County Republican Party between 1999-2010, and has been a member of the Texas Federation of Republican Women since 1999.

Overall Assessment

As noted with Judge David Counts, nominees put forward by presidents of both parties generally fare an easier time through the confirmation process.  For her part, Scholer does not have a paper trail of controversial statements, or any particularly unorthodox legal or judicial views.  While she does have a long history as a Republican, a partisan history, in and of itself, should not be disqualifying for the bench.  As such, a prompt confirmation should be expected for Scholer, who will be the first Asian American judge on the Northern District of Texas, when confirmed.


[1] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Six to Serve on the United States District Courts (March 15, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).

[2] John Council, Cornyn Pledges to Help Obama Seat Texas Judges, Texas Lawyer, March 28, 2016, http://www.law.com/texaslawyer/almID/1202752774603/.

[3] Press Release, Office of Rep. Louie Gohmert, Gohmert Objects to President Obama’s Eastern District of Texas Judge Nominee (April 7, 2016) (on file at https://gohmert.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=398311).  

[4] See supra n. 1.

[5] Tarrantino et al. v. General Motors Corp. et al., Cause No. 86-12794, 14th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas; Judge John Marshall; 1986-89.

[6] Simmons v. Budget Rent a Car, Civil Action No. 3:81-cv-01431-F, United States District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Judge Robert Porter, 1982-84.

[7] In re: Yamaha Motor Corp., Rhino ATV Products Liability Litigation, Master File No. 3:09-MD-2016-BC, Multi District Litigation in the United States District Court, Western District of Kentucky; Judge Jennifer Coffman, 2009-2013.

[8] Bearden v. Half Price Books, Cause No. 14-1168, 134th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas; Judge Dale Tiller; 2014-15.

[9] Trebold v. Fowler, M.D., Cause No. 00-06073.

[10] Dennis v. Texas Utility Co, Inc. dba TU Electric Co., Cause No. 96-09957.

[11] See id.

[12] City of Dallas v. VRC, LLC., 260 S.W.3d 60 (Tex. App.-Dallas 2008 no pet.).

[13] See id.

[14] Id.

[15] See id.

[16] Ferguson v. Building Materials Corp. of America., 295 S.W.3d 642 (Tex. 2009).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

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