Andrew Oldham – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

Young, well-credentialed, and fiercely conservative, Andy Oldham is exactly the type of nominee that Trump promised to name to the federal bench if elected.  While Oldham’s involvement in aggressive conservative litigation may have secured him the nomination, it is likely to draw strong opposition from Senate Democrats.

Background

Andrew Stephen Oldham was born in Richmond, VA on December 15, 1978.  Oldham received a B.A. with Highest Honors from the University of Virginia in 2001, and then received a Master of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge in 2002.[1]  Oldham then attended Harvard Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2005.  (At Harvard Law, one of Oldham’s professors was U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren).[2]

After law school, Oldham moved to Washington D.C. to clerk for Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.  Oldham then moved to the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), working under acting Assistant Attorney General Stephen Bradbury.  In 2008, Oldham secured a clerkship with Justice Samuel Alito on the U.S. Supreme Court.[3]

In 2009, Oldham joined the law firm Kellogg Huber as an Associate.  Just three years later, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott hired Oldham as Deputy Solicitor General, working with fellow judicial nominee Cam Barker.

In 2015, when Abbott was elected to be Texas Governor, Oldham became his Deputy General Counsel.[4]  Oldham became the Acting General Counsel in 2017 and the General Counsel in 2018.

History of the Seat

Oldham has been nominated for a Texas seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  This seat opened on April 2, 2018 with Judge Edward Prado’s resignation to be the U.S. Ambassador to Argentina.  However, Oldham had been on the White House’s radar much earlier.  In 2017, Oldham was a finalist alongside Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett; U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor; and appellate attorney James Ho to fill two Texas vacancies on the Fifth Circuit.[5]  Ho and Willett were ultimately nominated on September 28, 2017 and confirmed in December 2017.[6]  Oldham remained under consideration, however, and was nominated to the Prado seat on February 15, 2018.

Political Activity

Oldham does not have a long donation history, with his only donation of record being a $500 contribution to Cruz during his presidential campaign in 2016.[7]  Additionally, Oldham served as an envelope stuffer for Republican George Allen’s senatorial campaign in 2000.[8]

Oldham has also been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, a conservative legal organization that has produced many Trump nominees, since 2002.[9]  He has also been a member of the National Rifle Association since 2015.[10]

Legal Experience

Oldham has served in both advisory positions: at the Office of Legal Counsel and then as Abbott’s General Counsel; and litigation positions: at Kellogg Huber and the Texas Attorney General’s Office.  While Oldham has engaged substantively with the law in each of these positions, the bulk of his most controversial (and significant) cases have been handled as Deputy Solicitor General of Texas, a role in which Oldham spearheaded much conservative activist litigation, as well as amicus work handled as Abbott’s Counsel.  Below, we highlight some of Oldham’s work on hot-button issues:

DAPA & Immigration

Oldham was lead counsel in challenging the Obama Administration’s Deferred Action for Parental Accountability (DAPA), which deferred action status for deportation purposes for immigrants with children who were American citizens or lawful permanent residents.[11]  Oldham drafted the initial complaint and successfully argued for a nationwide injunction before Judge Andrew Hanen.[12]

Abortion and Healthcare

As Deputy Solicitor General of Texas, Oldham managed the defense of Texas laws that critics alleged impeded a woman’s right to have an abortion.  Oldham was part of the legal team that successfully persuaded the Fifth Circuit to overturn a trial injunction and find that Texas laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges in local hospitals and restricting medication abortions were constitutional.[13]  Oldham was also involved in the defense of the restrictions under an “as-applied challenge” brought by a McAllen Texas abortion clinic.[14]  The Supreme Court would eventually find that the provisions created an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to choose.[15]

Oldham was also lead counsel in a challenge to the Affordable Care Act under the “Origination Clause” of the Constitution.[16]  Shortly after Oldham left the case, the Fifth Circuit dismissed the challenge for lack of standing.

Habeas Rights

As Deputy Texas Solicitor General, Oldham argued two cases before the Supreme Court, in both cases arguing, unsuccessfully, for the barring of habeas claims raised by the plaintiffs.  In the first case, a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled against Oldham’s position, finding that the ineffective assistance of state habeas counsel can excuse the procedural default of a habeas claim.[17]  In the second case, a 6-3 majority held that a habeas inmate did not need to cross-appeal a claim he had lost on the trial level in order to raise it during a defense of claims he had won.[18]

Second Amendment

As Deputy General Counsel for Governor Abbott, Oldham filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Governors of Texas, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and South Dakota in a Second Amendment challenge to a California law requiring good cause to carry a concealed firearm.[19]  Despite Oldham’s and other briefs filed supporting the Second Amendment challenge, the Ninth Circuit held en banc that the Second Amendment does not protect a right to concealed carry.[20]

Campaign Finance

In the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Oldham helped defend Texas’ campaign finance laws against First Amendment challenges brought by a group of nonprofits and general-purpose political committees.[21]  The plaintiffs challenged Texas’ ban on corporate contributions for issue-oriented general-purpose committees, as well as requirements that the committees have appointed treasurers, collect ten contributions, and wait sixty days before exceeding $500 in contributions and expenditures.[22]  In the challenge defended by Oldham, the Fifth Circuit struck down the ten contribution limit and the sixty day waiting period but upheld the other requirements.[23]

Environmental & Administrative Law

At the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Oldham helped craft the challenge to greenhouse gas rules promulgated by the EPA under the Clean Air Act.  Specifically, Oldham focused on the challenge to the EPA “tailoring” rule, which determined which sources emitting air pollutants were required to get permits, and argued that the rule should not be subjected to Chevron deference.  The Supreme Court struck down the “tailoring” rule by a 5-4 margin.[24]

Overall Assessment

Oldham, with his impeccable academic credentials, his youth, and future Supreme Court potential, was always going to attract attention in the confirmation process.  However, given Oldham’s involvement in conservative impact litigation, his nomination is likely to be deeply controversial.

In particular, Oldham’s role in litigation against DAPA, and EPA rules, as well as his role defending abortion restrictions that were struck down as unconstitutional will be argued to suggest that he is a conservative extremist.  Democrats may note that Oldham had an unusually active role in shaping and filing litigation intended to further conservative policy goals and stymie liberal ones.  As such, they will argue that Oldham will continue that goal on the bench and be a judicial activist.

Oldham’s supporters, including Cornyn and Cruz, who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will undoubtedly argue that it is inappropriate to impute a lawyer’s positions on behalf of his client to the lawyer himself.  However, as Cruz himself voted against Trump nominee Mark Bennett based on stances he took as Hawaii Attorney General, Democrats may decide that what’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.  As such, Oldham’s confirmation will ultimately turn on his decisions rather than his qualifications.


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

[2] Fred Thys, Warren’s Former Students See Her As Anything But ‘Elitist’, WBUR, Apr. 23, 2012, http://legacy.wbur.org/2012/04/23/warren-popular-former-students.

[3] See Oldham, supra n. 1 at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Zoe Tillman, Political Drama in Texas Has Left Trump Struggling to Fill Court Seats, Buzzfeed, Sept. 19, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/political-drama-in-texas-has-left-trump-struggling-to-fill?utm_term=.faDyjV6gGd#.td4DkPEl10.

[6] Zoe Tillman, The Stalemate Over Texas Court Vacancies is Over, As Trump Announces Nominess, Buzzfeed, Sept. 28, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/stalemate-over-texas-court-vacancies-ends-as-trump?utm_term=.irqgDE26xn#.oaPzmk365o.

[8] Oldham, supra n. 1 at 14.

[9] See id. at 5.

[10] Id.

[11] Texas v. United States, 86 F. Supp. 591 (S.D. Tex. 2015) (issuing a preliminary injunction against DAPA).

[12] See id.

[13] Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas Surgical Health Servs. v. Abbott, 748 F.3d 583 (5th Cir. 2014).

[14] Whole Woman’s Health v. Lakey, 46 F. Supp. 3d 673 (W.D. Tex. 2014).

[15] Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, 136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016).

[16] Holtz v. Burwell, 784 F.3d 984 (5th Cir. 2015).

[17] Trevino v. Thaler, 133 S. Ct. 1911 (2013).

[18] Jennings v. Stephens, 135 S. Ct. 793 (2015).

[19] Peruta v. Cnty. of San Diego, 824 F.3d 919 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).

[20] See id. at 924.

[21] Catholic Leadership Coalition of Texas v. Reisman, et al., 764 F.3d 409 (5th Cir. 2014).

[22] See id. at 414.

[23] Id.

[24] Texas v. EPA; Utility Air Regulatory Group v. EPA, 134 S. Ct. 2427 (2014).

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