Andrew Brasher – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama

Late last year, the Trump Administration suffered an unusual and embarrassing defeat when Alabama judicial nominee Brett Talley withdrew in the face of bipartisan opposition.  Among the many knocks against Talley were his youth and inexperience.  Now, the Administration has replaced Talley with Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher, who is just as young, but brings a significantly greater amount of courtroom experience.

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 (working with Talley in the office).[3]  Brasher continues to serve in the office.

History of the Seat

Brasher has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.  This seat opened on August 1, 2015, when Judge Mark Fuller resigned after his arrest for domestic violence.[4]  Despite the seat opening in President Obama’s second term, negotiations between the Administration and Alabama’s Republican senators fell apart and no nomination was ever made to fill the seat.[5]

In September 2017, the Trump Administration nominated Talley to the court.[6]  Unfortunately, Talley’s nomination quickly drew criticism from Democrats for his youth and lack of experience.  Shortly after his nomination passed through the Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote, it became public that Talley did not disclose his marriage to Ann Donaldson, the chief of staff to White House Counsel Don McGahn in his paperwork.[7]  Soon after, news broke of undisclosed posts and comments written by Talley under a pseudonym,[8] including message board comments defending “the first KKK.”[9]  Facing increasing bipartisan pushback to Talley’s nomination, the White House agreed to withdraw Talley’s nomination.[10]

On December 9, 2017, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) reached out to Brasher to schedule an interview for the Middle District vacancy.[11]  Shelby recommended Brasher to the White House in late December.  Brasher was officially nominated on April 10, 2018.

Legal Experience

Setting aside his clerkship, Brasher has had two main legal jobs: 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, despite the latter’s alleged 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 Supreme Court ultimately reversed the lower court ruling upholding the districts, suggesting that many of whom constituted racial gerrymanders.[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]

Writings and Speeches

Setting aside his official positions as Alabama Solicitor General, Brasher had written and spoken extensively on legal and political issues.

 

Federal Regulation

On February 4, 2017, Brasher served on a Federalist Society panel titled “Combating Federal Overreach.”[19]  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.  On the panel, Brasher 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 in the discussion, Brasher also criticized 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.”[20]

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 and discussed IRS interference in not-for-profits and political organizations.[21]

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.[22]  In the piece, Brasher argues that the Supreme Court “should at least reject the argument that these laws serve no legitimate state interest.”[23]  Brasher suggests that states maintain 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.”[24]

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.[25]  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?”[26]

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.[27]  Brasher suggests that the decision would lead to more judicial intervention in redistricting without providing adequate standards for them to do so.  Brasher also suggests that courts impose a requirement on plaintiffs to offer a map that would meet the partisan goals of the legislature.[28]

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.[29]  Brasher also served on the Trump Transition Team, coordinating criminal justice policy with the incoming Administration.[30]

In addition, Brasher donated $300 to the Alabama Republican Party in 2015, his only notable political contribution.[31]

Overall Assessment

While Brasher is the exact same age as Brett Talley, he approaches the confirmation process with several key advantages that the latter did not have.

First, Brasher has served as Solicitor General, a position that has given him significant litigation experience, including three Supreme Court oral arguments.  In recognition of this fact, a substantial majority of the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Judiciary rated Brasher “Qualified” for the judicial appointment, with a minority finding him “Well Qualified.” (In comparison, the Committee had unanimously found Talley “Not Qualified.”)

Second, Brasher has not, to our knowledge, ever blogged, anonymously or otherwise, on his personal political views.  Rather, his writings, while revealing a conservative judicial philosophy, focus on interpreting and understanding Supreme Court precedent.

That being said, Brasher will still likely attract significant opposition to his confirmation.  First, having defended many controversial positions as Solicitor General (and having lost repeatedly before the Supreme Court), Brasher will no doubt be called upon to answer for the stances he took.  Second, Brasher’s involvement in the Federalist Society will likely draw criticism, given much scrutiny over the conservative organization’s outsized influence over Trump’s court nominees.  As such, given Brasher’s background and expected longevity on the bench, Brasher will likely be opposed by most Democrats.  Nevertheless, unlike his predecessor, Brasher remains a favorite to be confirmed.


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

[20] Id. at 1:19:45.

[21] 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).

[22] 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/.

[23] See id.

[24] Id.

[25] 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/.  

[26] Id.

[27] 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/.  

[28] Id.

[29] See Brasher, supra n. 1 at 20.

[30] See id.

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