The Nominees Left Out

Updated on January 23, 2019 at 3:24 PM

When the 115th Congress adjourned, it sent 73 judicial nominees back to the President.  Yesterday, President Trump announced his intention to renominate 50 of them (as well as one nominee to the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review).  This leaves 23 nominees not on the initial list and still in limbo.  Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed has a great rundown of the nominees sent back to the Senate.  Today, we look at the 23 who were not.

Out of the 23, 16 come from just three states: New York; California; and Illinois.  Each of these states has two Democratic Senators, and, more importantly, Senators with prominent positions in the Democratic Party.  As such, one could argue that the blocking of these renominations are intended to add pressure to Democrats during the government shutdown.  However, I would argue that the truth is more complicated.

Let’s start with California, which has two senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Both were strong opponents of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  There were six California nominees pending that were not renominated: Patrick Bumatay, Dan Collins, and Kenneth Lee to the Ninth Circuit; and Stanley Blumenfeld, Jeremy Rosen, and  Mark Scarsi for the Central District of California.  This batch was submitted relatively late in 2018, and did not have the support of California’s home-state senators.  Since that point, White House Counsel Don McGahn has departed and has been replaced with Pat Cippolone, and, by all accounts, negotiations between the White House and California senators are back on.  As such, not renominating the California nominees can be seen as an optimistic sign.  Of course, some, if not all, of the six will ultimately make it to the bench, either as part of a package, or, if negotiations fail, individually.

The situation in New York is more complicated.  New York Senator Chuck Schumer leads the Senate Democratic Caucus and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has presidential ambitions.  Nevertheless, they managed to work with the White House to put together a seven-judge package of nominees last year.  These nominees, including three Democrats and four Republicans, have not been renominated.  At the same time, the White House has renominated four other New York nominees: Judge Joseph Bianco and Michael Park for the Second Circuit; Thomas Marcelle for the Northern District of New York, and Philip Halpern for the Southern District of New York.  It is unclear why the White House has declined to put forward a group of nominees who were passed out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, although one can speculate that it is intended as a slight to Schumer.

Finally, we come to perhaps the most surprising omission, Illinois.  Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth established a productive relationship with the White House on judicial nominations, resulting in the smooth confirmations of Michael Scudder and Judge Amy St. Eve to the Seventh Circuit (the only appellate nominations during the Trump Administration to receive unanimous support).  They also put together a package of three district court nominees: conservatives Martha Pacold and Steven Seeger; and liberal Mary Rowland.  None of the three have been renominated.  Of course, given the number of vacancies on the federal bench in Illinois, it is possible that the three will be wrapped into a larger package of nominees.

Stepping away from these three states, you have an additional seven who have not been renominated.  Two of these, Mary McElroy of Rhode Island and Judge Stephanie Gallagher of Maryland, were nominees originally chosen by President Obama and renominated by President Trump with Democratic support.  I think the Administration is hoping, supported by a new Judiciary Chair, to renegotiate these picks and try to find nominees with more conservative records.  (The Trump Administration did renominate Judge John Milton Younge so it’s not that all Democratic picks were left off the list)

The remaining five are nominees who would likely face a difficult journey to confirmation.  This includes Jon Katchen, who withdrew his nomination late last year in the face of strong opposition from the Alaska Bar, Gordon Giampietro, who has been blue-slipped by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Thomas Farr, whose expected confirmation fizzled last year after opposition from Sen. Tim Scott.  Farr is perhaps the most notable of the three, as Sen. Thom Tillis has still been advocating for his renomination.  Regardless, withdrawing Farr is a no-brainer for the White House.  The sixty-four year old nominee can easily be replaced with a judge just as conservative and two decades younger.

The last two are the most interesting and surprising.  FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen was not renominated to the Court of Federal Claims.  While Ohlhausen did face strong Democratic opposition from the Senate Judiciary Committee, so did fellow nominee Ryan Holte (Holte was renominated).  As such, I’m inclined to think that Ohlhausen may have asked for her nomination to be withdrawn.  (UPDATE: An individual familiar with the judicial confirmation process has confirmed that Ohlhausen withdrew her nomination.)   Finally, there is John O’Connor, nominated to a district court seat in Oklahoma.  O’Connor was rated Unqualified by a unanimous panel of the American Bar Association, who cited his lackluster legal career, and noted ethical issues.  It is hard to believe that the ABA rating was the sole factor in blocking O’Connor given that other nominees have soldiered on past such a rating and been confirmed.  Given that the allegations against O’Connor were presumably examined during the White House vetting process, the lack of a renomination is surprising.

Overall, some, if not all, of these 23 picks, could still be renominated.  However, their exclusion from the initial list clearly makes a point: the Administration is continuing to move deliberately with regard to judicial nominations, and the area is still a priority for them.  As such, we’re in for an interesting Congress.

3 Comments

  1. Excellent overview, per usual. Since the Senate Judiciary Committee seems to be honoring the blue slip at the district court level, it would seem odd to me for the White House to withhold consensus picks, particularly in states like MD, RI & IL.

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