Eric Murphy – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

Eric Murphy was not even thirty-five when he was selected to be Ohio’s top appellate attorney.  Now, still shy of forty, Murphy has been nominated to a lifetime appointment to the Sixth Circuit.  However, Murphy’s nomination is strongly opposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown, his home-state senator.

Background

Eric Earl Murphy was born in Indianapolis in 1979.  Murphy received his B.A. from Miami University in 2001 and his J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 2005.[1]  He clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and then for Justice Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court.[2]

After his clerkships, Murphy joined the Columbus office of Jones Day as an Associate.[3]  In 2013, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine selected Murphy as the new Solicitor General for the state, replacing Alexandra Schimmer.[4]  He serves in that position today.

History of the Seat

Murphy has been nominated for an Ohio seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Judge Alice Batchelder has indicated that she will vacate the seat upon the confirmation of a successor.

In September 2017, Murphy reached out to the White House Counsel’s Office to express his interest in a judicial appointment.[5]  After interviews with the White House, Murphy interviewed with Brown and Republican Senator Rob Portman in late 2017.  He was officially nominated on June 18, 2018.[6]   Notably, Brown has indicated his strong opposition to Murphy’s nomination and has indicated that he will not return a blue slip.[7]

Political Activity

Murphy has a relatively limited political history, having served as part of the local Republican Party chapter as a college student and having volunteered for DeWine in the 2000 elections.[8]

Private Practice

After his clerkships, Murphy worked in the Columbus office (alongside fellow nominee Chad Readler) as an Associate in the Issues and Appeals section.  In this role, Murphy handled appeals in state and federal court, representing a variety of corporate clients, including R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., Goodyear Tires, and Procter & Gamble.[9]  Notably, Murphy represented the Washington Legal Foundation, a free-market conservative organization, in arguing that the First Amendment permits promoting a prescription drug for an off-label use, successfully getting a conviction overturned.[10]

Solicitor General

Since 2013, Murphy has served as the Solicitor General of Ohio, representing Ohio before state and appellate panels, defending state laws, and pushing for conservative legal outcomes in other cases.  In his five years as Solicitor General, Murphy has argued five cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.[11]  He has also filed four amicus briefs as counsel of record and has participated at the certiorari level in over eighty additional cases.[12]  We have highlighted some of the key positions he took as Solicitor General.

False Speech in Advertising

Murphy’s first argued case before the Supreme Court was Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus.  The case involved a challenge by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group, to an Ohio law criminalizing the use of “false statements” in political advertising.  After a lower court held that the SBA List could not challenge the law for lack of standing, the Supreme Court granted certiorari and Murphy defended the law.  The Supreme Court unanimously held against Murphy’s position and found that the SBA List could challenge the law under the First Amendment.[13]

Death Penalty Protocol

In 2016, prisoners challenged Ohio’s three-drug protocol for executions, and its use of the drug Midzolam.[14]  After the District Court granted an injunction against the protocol, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed, Murphy was able to convince an en banc seating of the Sixth Circuit to reverse.[15]

Same Sex Marriage

As Solicitor General, Murphy led the defense of Ohio’s ban on same sex marriage, consolidated with the bans in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Michigan.[16]  Murphy defended the bans before the Sixth Circuit, arguing that gay marriage was an issue for voters, not the courts.[17]  However, the Supreme Court ultimately rejected Murphy’s position, holding that same sex marriage bans violate the Constitution.[18]

Restrictions on Voting

As Solicitor General, Murphy led the defense of Ohio voting restrictions, including two prominent cases that involved the Supreme Court.  The first case involved a challenge to the reduction of Ohio’s early voting period from 35 days to 28.[19]  Murphy defended the restrictions, successfully reinstating them before the Sixth Circuit after the District Court struck them down.[20]  The Supreme Court denied a stay.

The second case was a challenge under the National Voter Registration Act to Ohio’s practice of purging voters from the rolls after a two-year inactive period of voting.[21]  After the District Court permitted the practice, a panel of the Sixth Circuit reversed and the Supreme Court granted certiorari.  Murphy argued the case before the Supreme Court, which reversed 5-4.[22]

Overall Assessment

Murphy has accomplished a lot given his relative youth.  Despite barely meeting the 12 years of practice criteria set by the American Bar Association, it is hard to argue that Murphy is not qualified for the appellate bench.

However, this does not mean that Murphy will be deemed a “consensus” nominee.  Murphy has been advanced without the support of his home-state senator, which automatically puts a nominee at risk of opposition.  Additionally, Murphy’s record as Solicitor General can be characterized as constituting conservative activism.  Murphy’s defense of Ohio voting restrictions and same-sex marriage ban will be particularly scrutinized.

At the same time, Solicitors General and Attorneys General have a responsibility to defend their state statutes and policies, provided that there is a reasonable defense.  Murphy’s supporters can point to his defense of the Ohio “false statements” law, challenged by conservative groups, to argue that Murphy’s top priority is the law, rather than ideology.

Overall, given Senate Republicans’ abandonment of the “blue slip” policy for appellate nominees, Murphy will likely be confirmed.  However, he is unlikely to get the support of many, if any Democrats, in that process.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Eric E. Murphy: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 47.

[6] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Eleventh Wave of Judicial Candidates (Feb. 15, 2017) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office).

[7] Press Release, Office of Sen. Sherrod Brown, Brown Will Not Support Judge Nominees Who Worked to Strip Ohioans of Their Rights (June 8, 2018) (on file at https://www.brown.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/brown-will-not-support-judge-nominees-who-worked-to-strip-ohioans-of-their-rights).

[8] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 14-15.

[9] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 16-17.

[10] See United States v. Caronia, 703 F.3d 149 (2d Cir. 2012).

[11] See Ohio v. Am. Express Co., 138 S. Ct. 2274 (2018); Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Inst., 138 S. Ct. 1833 (2018); Nat’l Ass’n of Mfrs. v. Dep’t of Def., 138 S. Ct. 617 (2018); Sheriff v. Gillie, 136 S. Ct. 1594 (2016); Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014).

[12] See Murphy, supra n. 1 at 19-24.

[13] Susan B. Anthony List v. Dreihaus, 134 S. Ct. 2334 (2014).

[14] In re Ohio Execution Protocol, 860 F.3d 881 (6th Cir. 2017) (en banc).

[15] Id. 

[16] DeBoer v. Snyder, 772 F.3d 388 (6th Cir. 2014).

[17] Robert Barnes, Gay-Marriage Backers Meet a Skeptical Court, Wash. Post, Aug. 7, 2014.

[18] Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015).

[19] Ohio Democratic Party v. Husted, 834 F.3d 620 (6th Cir. 2016); Husted v. Ohio State Conference of the NAACP, 135 S. Ct. 42 (2014).

[20] Id. 

[21] Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Inst., 138 S. Ct. 1833 (2018).

[22] Id.

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