Steven Seeger – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Steven Seeger, a trial attorney for the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is part of a 3-judge package that Trump has put forward for the Northern District of Illinois.

Background

A native Illinoisan, Steven Charles Seeger was born in Normal on March 18, 1971.  Seeger attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school, receiving his B.A. summa cum laude in 1993, and then spent a year working as an English teacher in Japan.[1]

Seeger received his J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he served as Articles Editor at the Law Review.[2]  Seeger then clerked for Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then joined the Chicago Office of Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.  He was made a Partner at the firm in 2003.[3]

In 2010, Seeger joined the Securities & Exchange Commission, based in Chicago as Senior Trial Counsel.[4]  He has held that position since then.

History of the Seat

Seeger has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on October 21, 2016, when Judge James Zagel moved to senior status.  As the seat opened with only three months left in President Obama’s presidency, no nomination was ever made to fill the seat.

In early 2017, Seeger reached out to Illinois Republicans to express his interest in a federal judgeship.[5]  In February 2018, he applied with a screening committee set up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.[6]  Seeger was chosen as a prospective nominee for the Northern District by the end of February.

On March 20, 2018, Seeger interviewed with Durbin and Duckworth.[7]  President Trump announced Seeger’s nomination as part of a three-judge package on June 7, 2018.

Legal Career

Seeger has spent his legal career primarily in two positions: at Kirkland & Ellis, and at the SEC.  In the former, Seeger primarily worked in general litigation, while in the latter, Seeger worked exclusively on the enforcement of SEC matters.  Over the course of his legal career, Seeger handled two jury and one bench trials.[8]

At Kirkland, Seeger handled the linerboard antitrust litigation, a series of lawsuits that paper companies had violated the Sherman Act by artificially restricting the supply of linerboard.[9]  In the litigation, Seeger represented International Paper, and the suit eventually led to a settlement.  Additionally, while at Kirkland, Seeger co-authored an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of McCreary County’s display of the Ten Commandments before a courthouse.[10]  The display was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment.[11]

Since 2010, Seeger has worked as an SEC trial litigator.  Among his more prominent cases, Seeger prosecuted radio talk-show host Pat Kiley for allegedly soliciting clients for a Ponzi scheme,[12] and investor Jason Bo-Alan Beckman for running an investment fraud scheme.[13]

Writings

In 1997, Seeger authored an article on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the proper test in evaluating religious burdens under the law.[14]  In the article, Seeger weighs three competing tests for evaluating burdens under RFRA and adopts the broadest: the religious motivation test.[15]  The religious motivation test asks if a burdened act is “motivated” by a religious belief to determine if RFRA protects it.[16]  In supporting this test, Seeger argues that it allows for the broadest application to RFRA’s test, while tests that require the burdened act to be “central to” or “compelled by” faith leaves out non-Abrahamic faith traditions that apply faith restrictions more loosely.[17]  Seeger also argues that this approach keeps judges out of the task of parsing the weight of religious prohibitions, noting:

“Courts cannot decide whether a practice is central to or compelled by a litigant’s religion without making a theological interpretation of the believer’s faith.[18]

Overall Assessment

Generally speaking (although not guaranteed), package nominees generally sail to confirmation as both the White House and senators have an incentive not to let the package die.  Seeger is similarly favored.

Nonetheless, Seeger may face questions regarding his views on RFRA.  Specifically, senators may probe Seeger’s endorsement of a “religious motivation” view, noting that corporations and individuals may use “religious motivation” to avoid compliance with civil rights and discrimination laws.  Seeger may be asked to clarify his view on the application of RFRA in such circumstances.  With the backing of Durbin and Duckworth, however, Seeger is, nonetheless, likely to overcome such questions and be confirmed.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Steven C. Seeger: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 26-27.

[6] Id. at 27.

[7] Id.

[8] See id. at 10.

[9] See In re Linerboard Antitrust Litig., C.A. Nos. 98-5055, 99-3141, MDL No. 1261 (E.D. Pa. filed March 16, 1999).

[10] See McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844 (2005), brief at 2004 WL 2825469.

[11] See id.

[12] See Dan Browning, Kiley Denies Role in Cook Ponzi Scheme; Talk-show Host Pat Kiley Alleged That His Former Lawyers Had Taken Orders From Convicted Schemer Trevor Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 15, 2010.

[13] David Hanners, Federal Judge Freezes Beckman Assets in Investor Fraud Case, St. Paul

[14] Steven C. Seeger, Restoring Rights to Rites: The Religious Motivation Test and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 95 Mich. L. Rev. 1472 (1997).

[15] See id. at 1475.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 1503-05.

[18] Id. at 1510.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s