Judge Robert Wier – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky

As the senior senator from Kentucky and the most powerful Republican in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had tremendous influence over the federal bench of his home state.  Since 1985, McConnell has recommended numerous judges to the federal bench, almost all of them conservative and very young.  While the average age of appointees to the federal bench is 50-52, the ten Kentucky judges appointed by Republican presidents since McConnell joined the senate have an average age of just 43.  At 50, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier is a more conventional nominee than McConnell’s usual recommendations.

Background

Robert Earl Wier was born in Harlan, KY in 1967.  After getting a B.A. with High Distinction from the University of Kentucky in 1989, Wier stayed and received a J.D. with High Distinction from the University of Kentucky Law School in 1992.  After his graduation, Wier served as a law clerk to Sixth Circuit Judge Eugene Siler.

In 1993, Wier joined the Lexington Law Firm Stoll, Keenon & Park LLP. as an associate.  Two years later, he co-founded the firm Ransdall & Wier, PLLC. as a partner.  After ten years at the firm, in 2006, Wier was tapped to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.  He currently serves in that capacity.

In 2006, Wier contacted McConnell to express his interest in a federal judicial appointment.[1]  The appointment ultimately went to then-U.S. Attorney (and current Sixth Circuit Judge) Amul Thapar.

History of the Seat

Wier has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.  This seat opened on May 25, 2017, when Judge Amul Thapar was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Wier had maintained contact with McConnell and Senator Rand Paul through the Obama Administration regarding Kentucky federal judicial vacancies.[2]  He interviewed with McConnell’s staff in late 2016 and with McConnell in early 2017.  Wier interviewed with the White House and Department of Justice on Feb. 23, 2017.[3]  He was nominated on August 3, 2017.

Legal Experience

Wier has practiced as an attorney in two different positions.  First, after finishing his clerkship, Wier worked at Stoll, Keenon & Park, LLP. as an associate in their commercial litigation group.  In this position, which he held for two years, Wier represented businesses in pre-trial matters.  Second, from 1996 to 2006, Wier worked at Ransdall & Wier, P.C., a firm he founded and managed.

At Ransdall & Wier, P.C., Wier represented both businesses and individuals in commercial and employment cases.[4]  Among his more notable cases, Wier represented a plaintiff in establishing a cause of action for negligent hiring in Kentucky.[5]

Jurisprudence

Wier has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since 2006.  In this capacity, Wier has handled approximately 400 misdemeanor and civil cases that have proceeded to judgment, including approximately 200 jury trials.[6]  Among the more prominent cases that Wier has handled, he presided over the first extradition proceeding based on war crimes charges in the Eastern District of Kentucky,[7] and the discovery proceedings over a massive gender discrimination case brought against Wal-Mart.[8]  In another notable case, Wier found that compelling an Amish defendant to pose for a photograph in violation of his religious beliefs would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).[9]

Reversals

In his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, Wier notes ten cases where his recommendations or rulings were reversed by the district court or by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[10]  Among these cases, the more substantive reversals generally fall into two categories: motions to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment; and motions for resentencing under 28 U.S.C. §2255.

Motions to Suppress

Wier has been reversed by the Sixth Circuit twice on motions to suppress.  In one case, upon Wier’s recommendation, Judge Danny Reeves denied a defendant’s motion to suppress cocaine and a firearm found in the passenger compartment of his vehicle.[11]  The Sixth Circuit, in a unanimous opinion by Judge Raymond Kethledge, reversed, finding that the Supreme Court’s intervening decision in Arizona v. Gant rendered the search unconstitutional.[12]  In another case, Reeves denied a motion to suppress, relying on Wier’s finding that the good-faith exception prevented suppression of child pornography found through a search lacking probable cause.[13]  The Sixth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Alice Batchelder, reversed, finding that the good-faith exception did not apply.[14]

§2255 Motions

§2255 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code allows prisoners to collaterally challenge sentences that violate the Constitution, statutes, or are improperly decided.  Of the many §2255 rulings that Wier has made, a handful have been rejected by a district judge or the Sixth Circuit.  Notably, the Sixth Circuit reversed Reeves’ denial, upon Wier’s recommendation, of a §2255 motion involving interrelated sentences.[15]  In another case, Wier recommended that a prisoner originally sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act be resentenced, only to have his recommended rejected by Reeves.[16]

Political Activity

Wier has a relatively limited political history.  In 1997, Wier donated $200 to the Jonathan Scott Miller, a Democrat running for Kentucky State Treasurer (Miller was ultimately elected and served until 2007 as Treasurer).[19]  In 2003 and 2004, Wier served as Treasurer on the Campaign of former Kentucky State Senator Tim Philpot, a Republican, who was running to retain his appointed seat on the Fayette County Circuit Court.[20][21]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Wier is unlikely to attract major opposition.  He has a fairly non-controversial record of jurisprudence, and a long tenure as a U.S. Magistrate Judge.  Furthermore, he has a powerful advocate on his side.  No Kentycky judge recommended by McConnell has ever lost a vote for confirmation.  The streak is unlikely to end with Wier.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 46.

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See id. at 35-36.

[5] Oakley v. Flor-Shin, Inc., 964 S.W.2d 438 (Ky. App. 1998).

[6] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 9-10.

[7] United States v. Basic, No. 5:11-MJ-05002-REW, 2012 WL 3067466 (E.D. Ky. July 27, 2012).

[8] EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 6:01-CV-339-KKC.

[9] United States v. Girod, 159 F. Supp. 3d 773, 784 (E.D. Ky. 2015).

[10] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 27-28.

[11] United States v. Lopez, No. 6:06-120-DCR, 2006 WL 3827468 (E.D. Ky Dec. 27, 2006).

[12] United States v. Lopez, 567 F.3d 755 (6th Cir. 2009).

[13] United States v. Hodson, No. 6:06-CR-117-DCR (E.D. Ky Dec. 13, 2006).

[14] U.S. v. Hodson, 543 F.3d 286 (6th Cir. 2008).

[15] Maxwell v. United States, 617 F. App’x 470 (6th Cir. 2015).

[16] United States v. Potter, No. 7:03-21-DCR, 2016 WL 6135433 (E.D. Ky Oct. 20, 2016).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=robert+wier&order=desc&sort=D (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[20] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 46.

[21] Philpot, a social conservative, later came under fire for anti-same sex marriage comments that some interpreted to be homophobic.  See Andrew Wolfson, Family Judge: Gay Marriage Like “Jumbo Shrimp”, Louisville Courier Journal, Sept. 21, 2016, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2016/09/21/family-judge-gay-marriage-like-jumbo-shrimp/90729048/.  

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