M. Miller Baker – Nominee for the U.S. Court of International Trade

As noted previously, nominations to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which hears cases involving international trade and customs laws, generally do not draw the level of rancor that other judicial nominations do.  However, M. Miller Baker, a conservative attorney with a history of lawsuits on election law and voting law, may find himself an exception to that rule.

Background

Maurice Miller Baker was born in Houma, Louisiana, in 1962.  Baker did not graduate from college, although he attended Nicholls State University and Louisiana State University, and was accepted to Tulane University Law School in 1981 under an accelerated program.[1]  After graduating, Baker clerked for Judge John M. Duhe on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana, and then for Judge Thomas Gee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[2]

After his clerkships, Baker joined the Department of Justice, working in the Office of Legal Policy and the Civil Rights Division before leaving in 1989 to go into private practice.[3]  In 1991, Baker joined the staff of U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch on the Senate Judiciary Committee.[4]

In 1993, Baker joined Carr Goodson Warner P.C. as an Associate and became a Partner in 1996.  In 2000, he moved laterally to McDermott Will & Emery LLP, where he serves as a Partner today.

In 2006, Baker was one of five people recommended by Virginia Senators to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia (fellow Trump nominee Rossie Alston was another name on the list).[5]  The Bush Administration selected U.S. Magistrate Judge Liam O’Grady instead.

History of the Seat

Baker has been nominated for a seat vacated by Judge Donald Pogue, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, on July 1, 2014.  President Obama nominated Jeanne Davidson to fill the vacancy on July 30, 2015, but Davidson was never processed by the Republican-controlled Senate.  While Davidson was supported by a unanimous Senate Judiciary Committee vote, she never received a final confirmation on the Senate floor.

In April 2017, Baker was contacted by the White House to discuss a judicial appointment.[6]  Baker interviewed with the Department of Justice in September 2017 and was nominated on June 18, 2018.

Political Activity

Baker has a long political history, including his run as a Republican against Virginia State Senator George Barker in 2011.[7]  In the campaign, Baker highlighted his Federalist Society membership and ran as a “proven conservative,” running on lowering taxes and improving teacher pay.[8]  Ultimately, Baker lost, getting 47% of the vote.[9]

Other than his own run, Baker has volunteered and provided legal services to several Republican campaigns, including those of Ken Cuccinelli, Mark Obenshain, George Allen, David Vitter, Orrin Hatch, John Ashcroft, and James Gilmore.[10]  In his youth, Baker was a Democrat, having volunteered for the Carter-Mondale campaign in 1980 and serving as a member of the Young Democrats of Louisiana.[11]

Legal Experience

Baker has had a fairly distinguished legal career, including arguing three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  In his first case before the Court, Baker successfully won a unanimous decision that Louisiana’s open primary law violated federal statutes by allowing members of Congress to be chosen up to a month before the uniform election day.[12]  In the second, Beck once again won unanimously, with the Supreme Court finding that his client, a bankruptcy trustee, did not breach his fiduciary duty to his clients.[13]  In the third, Baker represented Arthur Andersen LLP in arguing that the company could seek to stay a federal lawsuit against it pending arbitration proceedings even where it was not a signatory to the arbitration agreement.[14]  The Supreme Court agreed in a 6-3 opinion.[15]

In addition to his Supreme Court work, Baker has been particularly active in suits regarding voting regulations.  For example, Baker represented Concerned Women of America, a conservative group, in seeking to distribute campaign materials without registering as a political committee.[16]  Baker also led an unsuccessful challenge to Oregon’s vote by mail process,[17] and to Texas laws permitting early voting.[18]

Overall Assessment

While nominations to the Court of International Trade are usually non-controversial, Baker’s is likely to draw opposition.  Specifically, Baker is likely to be challenged regarding the voting lawsuits he has brought, and specifically the contention that early voting and that vote by mail violates federal law.  Given the ubiquity of early voting (to a much greater degree than existed at the time of the suit), most reasonable observers would agree that the practice is both legal and constitutional.  As such, senators will most likely probe Baker’s views on the subject.

At the same time, Baker is being nominated to a specialized court.  While he may have the opportunity to “sit by designation”, on the Court of International Trade, Baker’s views on voting are unlikely to play much role.  As such, Democrats may choose to save their fire and focus their attention on nominees likely to cause more damage.

Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that judges on the Court of International Trade do not have lifetime tenure. They do.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., M. Miller Baker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Alan Cooper, U.S. Senators John W. Warner and George Allen Name Alexandria Federal Nominees, Virginia Lawyers Weekly, May 8, 2006.

[6] See id. at 48-49.

[7] Christy Goodman, Voters to See Redrawn Election Districts, Wash. Post, May 12, 2011.

[8] State Senate District 39, Wash. Post, Aug. 18, 2011.

[9] See Baker, supra n. 1 at 21-22.

[10] Id. at 22.

[11] Id.

[12] Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67 (1997).

[13] Beck v. PACE Int’l Union, 551 U.S. 96 (2006).

[14] Arthur Andersen LLP v. Carlisle, 556 U.S. 624 (2009).

[15] See id.

[16] Rajiv Chandrasekharan, Conservatives Sue Va. and Democrats; Groups Seek Protection For Election Material, Wash. Post, Oct. 10, 1995.

[17] See Voting Integrity Project et al. v. Bomer, 61 F. Supp. 2d 600 (S.D. Tex. 1999).

[18] Voting Integrity Project et al. v. Keisling, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 22727 (D. Ore. Mar. 22, 1999).

Judge Pamela Barker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

A longtime insurance and civil practice attorney, Pamela Barker has served as a state judge in Ohio since 2011.  Her support from Ohio Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown makes her a likely candidate for a smooth confirmation.

Background

Barker was born Pamela Ann Addison in Cleveland, Ohio in 1957.  Barker received her B.A. magna cum laude from Kenyon College in 1979 and her J.D. from the Ohio State College of Law in 1982.

Barker worked primarily in insurance litigation, working in various positions including as a Claims Attorney at Progressive Insurance Company, a Claims Litigation Manager at Bristol West Insurance Group and as a solo practitioner.  Barker also served as a magistrate for the City of Brecksville, Ohio.

In 2011, Gov. John Kasich appointed Barker to serve on the Cuyahoga County Superior Court. She continues to serve in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Barker has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.  This seat was vacated on January 1, 2017, when Judge Donald Nugent moved to senior status.

In October 2017, Senators Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican recommended Barker to fill the vacancy.[1]  Barker interviewed with the White House in October 2017 and was officially nominated on April 12, 2018.[2]

Legal Experience

While Barker has held a number of different positions throughout her legal career, her focus has largely remained the same: insurance litigation.  During her time as an attorney, Barker has represented plaintiffs and defendants.   For example, Barker represented a Bedford Heights police officer who was struck by a vehicle during a highway stop.[3]  On the flip side, Barker represented Progressive Insurance Co. against an insurance coverage suit before the Ohio Court of Appeals.[4]

Jurisprudence

Barker has served as a judge on the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas since her appointment in 2011 by Gov. John Kasich.  In that capacity, Barker handles civil cases as well as criminal felony cases as has presided over 78 jury trials.[5]  Among her most notable cases, Barker sentenced a high ranking member of the Heartless Felons gang to life in prison[6] and presided over five convictions of “cold case” rapes and kidnappings against a defendant.[7]

Overall Assessment

With a largely uncontroversial record on the state bench and the support of Ohio liberal Sherrod Brown, Barker is largely considered a moderate-conservative in the mold of other Republicans on the Northern District of Ohio.  As such, she should be confirmed shortly with little opposition.


[1] Earl Rinehart, Trump May Not Like Ohio’s Federal Judge Choices, Columbus Dispatch, Nov. 20, 2017, https://www.dispatch.com/news/20171120/trump-may-not-like-ohios-federal-judge-choices.  

[2] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Pamela A. Barker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 67-68.szaa

[3] Leonardi, et al. v. Franzreb and Allstate Ins. Co., Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, Case No. CV-94-278901.

[4] See Nussbaum v. Progressive Cas. Ins. Co., 61 Ohio App.3d 1, 572 N.E.2d 119 (1988). 

[5] See Barker, supra n. 2 at 30.

[6] State of Ohio v. Nitsche, No. CR-14-581917 (Ohio Com. Pl.).

[7] State of Ohio v. Ford, Nos. CR-15-598281 and CR-17-614544 (Ohio Com. Pl.).

Timothy Reif – Nominee to the U.S. Court of International Trade

Nominations to the U.S. Court of International Trade, which hears cases involving international trade and customs laws, have generally not drawn the level of rancor that other judicial nominations have.  The last Obama judicial nominees confirmed by a Republican Senate in 2016, for example, were two selections for the Court of International Trade.  Timothy Reif, tapped by President Trump to fill a longstanding vacancy on the court, looks likely to maintain that tradition.

Background

Timothy Mark Reif was born in New York City on April 12, 1959.  Reif attended Princeton University and Columbia Law School.[1]  He was also a Fulbright Scholar, spending a year in Egypt.

After graduating law school, Reif joined Milbank Tweed Hadley & McCloy LLP as an Associate.[2]  In 1987, Reif joined the U.S. Trade Commission as an Attorney Advisor, and, in 1989, moved to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.[3]

In 1993, Reif joined the House Committee on Ways and Means as Trade Counsel.  He left in 1995 after Republicans took control of Congress to join Dewey Ballantine LLP as Special International Trade Counsel.[4]  In 1998, he returned to the Committee to serve as Chief International Trade Counsel, where he stayed until 2009.

In 2009, Reif joined the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative as General Counsel.[5]  In 2017, he became Senior Advisor to the Trade Representative, where he serves today.

History of the Seat

Reif has been nominated for a seat vacated by Judge Richard Eaton, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, on August 22, 2014.  President Obama nominated Elizabeth J. Drake, a D.C. based attorney, to fill the vacancy on July 30, 2015, but Drake was never processed by the Republican-controlled Senate.  While Drake was supported by a unanimous Senate Judiciary Committee vote, she never received a final confirmation on the Senate floor.

In the Fall of 2017, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recommended Reif for an appointment to the U.S. Court of International Trade.[6]  Reif interviewed with the White House in December 2017 and was nominated on June 18, 2018.

Political Activity

Reif has been a lifelong Democrat, volunteering for Ted Kennedy’s Presidential campaign in 1980, and volunteering for the Presidential campaigns of John Kerry and Barack Obama.[7]  Reif also donated to the campaign of Hillary Clinton in 2016.[8]

Legal Experience

Throughout his career, Reif has taken on many different positions, working with the U.S. Trade Representative, in Congress, and in private practice.

U.S. Trade Representative

Between 1989 and 1993, and, since 2009, Reif has worked for the U.S. Trade Representative, negotiating trade agreements and representing the United States in international tribunals.  Notably, Reif is one of the few Obama Administration officials to continue to serve to this day in the Trump Administration.

As general counsel to the U.S. Trade Representative, Reif challenged European Union subsidies offered to Airbus, arguing that they were intended to undercut competition from Boeing.[9]  Reif also defended U.S. Country of Origin labeling and Dolphin-Safe Tuna labeling against challenges from Canada and Mexico respectively.[10]

Committee on Ways and Means

From 1993 to 1994, and then from 1998 to 2009, Reif worked for the House Committee on Ways and Means, advising members on trade issues.  Reif’s tenure coincided with both Democratic and Republican majorities on the Committee, during the latter of which, Reif served as lead Democratic trade counsel.  During this time, Reif helped work on a bill normalizing trade relations with Vietnam.[11]

Private Practice

From 1995 to 1998, Reif worked as Special International Trade Counsel at Dewey Ballantine.  In that position, Reif represented clients working with the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.  During that time, Reif was also involved in a fierce dispute over two paintings by Austrian painter Egon Schiele.[12]  The paintings were once owned by his ancestor Fritz Grunbaum and were seized by the Nazis after Grunbaum was sent to a concentration camp.[13]  Reif sought a claim to heirship of the paintings, under display in the Leopold Foundation in Vienna.[14]

Overall Assessment

As noted above, nominations to the Court of International Trade are usually non-controversial.  Reif’s is likely to particularly so, given his Democratic pedigree and his broad experience with issues of international trade.  As such, Reif is likely to secure a near unanimous confirmation to this unique tribunal.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Timothy M. Reif: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id. at 1.

[4] Id. at 2.

[5] See id. 

[6] See id. at 55-56.

[7] See Reif, supra n. 1 at 41.

[9] Nicola Clark, Trade Group Rules Broadly for Boeing; Airbus Got Subsidies for all Planes, But Not All Were Illegal, WTO Says, Int’l Herald Tribune, July 1, 2010.  

[10] Tim Carman, Tuna, Meat Labels Face International Challenges, Wash. Post, Jan. 11, 2012.

[11] David J. Lynch, Vietnam Trade Bill Grinds to a Halt; Bush Will Show Up For Visit Overseas Empty-Handed as Vote Delayed Until December, USA Today, Nov. 15, 2006.

[12] Judith B. Dobrzynski, More Paintings by Schiele Face Ownership Questions, N.Y. Times, Jan. 15, 1998.

[13] See id.

[14] Judith B. Dobrzynski, German Court Revokes Ruling on Ownership of a Schiele Painting, N.Y. Times, Apr. 16, 1998.

Neomi Rao – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

If the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court was explosive and controversial, the nomination of Neomi Rao to fill his seat on the D.C. Circuit promises to bring some fireworks of its own.  Rao, a scholar of Administrative Law, has already drawn fire for her writings in college, as well as her strong views on civil rights, executive power, and the administrative state.  As such, the confirmation fight over Rao, who would be the first South Asian woman on the federal appellate bench, is bound to leave some scars of its own.

Background

The daughter of Parsi (an Indian Zoroastrian community) doctors, Neomi Jehangir Rao was born in Detroit on March 22, 1973, and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  Rao graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1995 with a B.A.[1]  Rao then spent two years as a reporter for the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine originally edited by Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes.[2]

Rao then attended the University of Chicago Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1999.  While in law school, Rao worked as a Law Clerk at the libertarian law firm the Institute of Justice and as a summer associate at Williams & Connolly LLP.[3]

After graduation, and a clerkship with Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Rao joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, working under then Chairman Orrin Hatch as Counsel for Nominations and Constitutional Law.[4]  In 2001, Rao secured a prestigious clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas, clerking on the Supreme Court alongside future federal judges Gregg Costa,[5] Vince Chhabria,[6] Alison Nathan,[7] and Michelle Friedland.[8]

After her Supreme Court clerkship, Rao joined Clifford Chance in London as an Associate.  In 2005, she returned to Washington to work as Associate Counsel and Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.[9]  In 2006, she left to become a Professor at the George Mason University Law School (later renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School), where she is currently on leave.

Since 2017, Rao has worked as Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Trump Administration, overseeing regulations that emerge from the various cabinet agencies.

History of the Seat

Rao has been nominated for the seat vacated by now Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  Rao had started discussions with White House Counsel Don McGahn about serving on the D.C. Circuit in August 2018.[10]  Unlike other lower court nominees, Rao had a personal interview with President Trump on October 12, 2018.[11]  Rao was officially nominated on November 13, 2019, and renominated on January 23, 2019.

Political Activity

Rao has made a few political donations in her lifetime, all to Republicans.  In 2004, Rao donated $1000 to the Presidential Campaign of George Bush.[12]  Similarly, in 2008, she gave $500 to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, and in 2012, $750 to the Presidential Campaign of Mitt Romney, as well as $250 to Sen. Ted Cruz.[13]  Additionally, Rao has given $1000 to Jeb Bush’s campaign in 2015.[14]

Rao has also volunteered with Lawyers for McCain in 2008 and Lawyers for Romney in 2012.[15]

OIRA

By her own account, Rao has not litigated extensively in the United States.  However, this does not mean that she has no legal experience.  In addition to positions on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in the White House, and at Clifford Chance in London, Rao has served as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) since 2017.  OIRA is one of the most powerful governmental bodies as it reviews all the regulations that emerge from the various cabinet departments and oversees their implementations.  An OIRA head can thus, by slowing, speeding, or altering regulations, reshape administrative policy for the Administration.  Past OIRA heads, including Cass Sunstein, have had a significant role in directing administrative policies.

During her tenure as OIRA head, Rao has, by her own account, pursued a “regulatory freedom agenda.”[16]  She has bragged about having taken 176 deregulatory actions, including opening coastal areas in New England to scallop fishing, and having stalled 2253 regulatory actions.[17]  Rao also indicates her support for easing regulations governing self-driving cars and removing federal water regulations under the Clean Water Act.[18]

On the flip side, Rao’s tenure has attracted sharp criticism from watchdog groups, with Patrice Simms of Earthjustice arguing that Rao was “gutting…the Mercury Air Toxics Standards [which] save as many as 11,000 lives every year.”[19]  Simms also argued that Rao was ignoring her responsibilities to ensure that agencies complies with the law in their rulemaking and that most of the rules she approved went on to get struck down by federal judges.[20]

Scholarship

In her role on the faculty at George Mason since 2006, Rao has established herself as a thought leader in the conservative legal movement, advocating for the restrictions on administrative rulemaking, and fighting against the Obama Administration both on regulations and with judicial nominations.

Administrative Law

From 2015 to 2017, Rao served as Director and Founder for the Center for the Study of the Administrate State at George Mason University.  As such, Rao has written extensively on Administrative law, primarily in seeking to restrict the reach of administrative rulemaking.  In one article, Rao states that “by creating the modern administrative state, Congress has marginalized itself.”[21]  In another, Rao argues that Presidential removal authority is essential to ensure political control over independent agencies.[22]

Right to Dignity

In a 2011 article on the Volokh Conspiracy, Rao discusses the differences between government promotions of substantive dignity as opposed to intrinsic dignity.[23]  Specifically, in the article, Rao criticizes government restrictions supporting “substantive dignity,” giving the example of bans on the practice of dwarf tossing (a practice in which dwarves are thrown for sport).[24]  Rao suggests that such bans, alongside bans on the wearing of the burqa, actually hurt intrinsic dignity by denying humans the dignity of choice in their activities.[25]  She also extends these arguments to bans on prostitution or pornography, noting that the bans “represent[] a particular moral view of what dignity requires.”[26]

Rao’s position has been characterized by some as a “defense” of dwarf-tossing and has been criticized as such by Mother Jones Magazine.[27]

Sotomayor Nomination

In 2009, Rao testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee against the confirmation of then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.[28]  In her testimony, Rao called Sotomayor an “accomplished nominee” but argued that Sotomayor had left open “the question of how a judge chooses to be faithful to the law.”[29]  Rao went on to state her own view of the role of a judge, as someone who “[decides] particular cases through an evenhanded application of the law.”[30]

College Writings

Rao’s writings as a college student have recently come under scrutiny for their occasionally inflammatory language and controversial positions.[31]  Some of her writings on race and affirmative action have been compared to those of Ryan Bounds, whose nomination was ultimately derailed by them.[32]  For example, in one article, Rao criticizes “multiculturalists” for seeking to “separate and classify everyone according to race, gender, and sexual orientation.”[33]  In another piece, Rao decries affirmative action as the “anointed dragon of liberal excess.”[34]  In an article, Rao states that “homosexuals want to redefine marriage and parenthood” and criticizes a Yale magazine for including “pornographic pictures of homosexual couplings.”[35]

Additionally, Rao has been accused on victim-blaming for a piece she wrote on the role of alcohol in date rape.[36]  In the article, Rao comments on the case of a woman who accused a fellow student of sexually assaulting her while she was drunk.[37]  In the piece, Rao notes:

“Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink.  And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”[38]

After initially standing by her statements as “intentionally provocative,” Rao backed down somewhat in her confirmation hearing and suggested that she had matured since her college days.[39]

Overall Assessment

Despite her history making nomination and her obvious academic credentials, Neomi Rao is a controversial nominee.  As tempting as it is to leave the analysis at that, it is worth digging deeper to highlight some of the reasons this is so.

First, Rao’s tenure at OIRA and her prior scholarship are strongly critical of administrative rulemaking.  This is welcome to many conservatives who criticize the “administrative state” as an extraconstitutional behemoth.  However, for those who believe that their air, water, health, welfare, and natural resources are protected by such rulemakings, Rao’s strong views are a cause for concern.  Thus, this is a flashpoint of controversy.

Second, Rao is a strong libertarian who has sharply criticized dignity-based rulemaking as well as affirmative action, multiculturalism, and LGBT advocacy.  This is another flashpoint.

Third, Rao’s college writings have drawn particular fire at a time when consent is discussed strongly.  The fact that she is replacing Kavanaugh, whose nomination was dogged by accusations of sexual assault, is sure to add fuel to the fire.

Finally, Rao is being tapped for the second highest court in the United States, one that, unlike the Supreme Court, leans liberal.  Rao is sure to add a fiercely conservative voice to the DC Circuit, which is the tribunal which hears most challenges to administrative rulemaking.

Add in all these factors and you have a recipe for an explosive mix.  Expect Democrats to strongly criticize Rao and Republicans to equally strongly support her.  Given the Republican majority, her confirmation is therefore expected, but, as the Ryan Bounds case has proven, nothing can be taken for granted.


[1] See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Neomi J. Rao: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] Costa clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

[6] Chhabria clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer.

[7] Nathan clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens.

[8] Friedland clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

[9] Id.

[10] See id. at 48-49.

[11] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] Id.

[15] See Rao, supra n. 1 at 35.

[16] See Office of Management of Budget, The 2018 Regulatory Reform Report: Cutting the Red Tape; Unleashing Economic Freedom (available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-Unified-Agenda-Cutting-the-Red-Tape.pdf).

[17] See id. 

[18] See id.

[19] Patrice L. Simms, A Lesson in Failure: OIRA, Neomi Rao, and Deregulation At Any Cost, American Constitution Society, ACSBlog, Feb. 4, 2019, https://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/a-lesson-in-failure-oira-neomi-rao-and-deregulation-at-any-cost/.  

[20] See id.

[21] Neomi Rao, Why Congress Matters: The Collective Congress in the Structural Constitution, 70 Fl. L. Rev. 1, 3 (2018).

[22] Neomi Rao, Removal: Necessary and Sufficient for Presidential Control, 65 Ala. L. Rev. 1205 (2014).

[23] Neomi Rao, Substantive Dignity – Dwarf-Throwing, Burqa Bans, and Welfare Rights, Volokh Conspiracy, May 18, 2011, http://volokh.com/2011/05/18/substantive-dignity-dwarf-throwing-burqa-bans-and-welfare-rights/.  

[24] See id.

[25] See id.

[26] Id.

[27] See Stephanie Mencimer, Trump’s Nominee to Replace Kavanaugh is a Staunch Defender of Dwarf-Tossing, Mother Jones, Nov. 16, 2018, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/11/neomi-rao-dwarf-tossing-kavanaugh-replacement/.  

[28] Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000).

[29] Neomi Rao, Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Transcript, July 16, 2009 (available at https://www.c-span.org/video/?287762-106/sotomayor-confirmation-hearing-day-4-legal-scholars-panel).  

[30] Neomi Rao, Symposium: Legal Issues and Sociolegal Consequences of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: How Apprendi Affects Institutional Allocations of Power, 87 Iowa L. Rev. 465, 470-74 (January 2002).

[31] See, e.g., Zoe Tillman, Trump’s DC Circuit Nominee – And Reported Supreme Court Contender – Wrote Inflammatory Op-Eds in College, BuzzFeed News, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/neomi-rao-nomination-college-writings-court-appeals.   

[32] See id.

[33] Neomi M. Rao, How the Diversity Game is Played, Wash. Times, July 17, 1994, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684162/7-17-94-Rao-How-the-Diversity-Game-Is-Played.pdf.   

[34] Neomi Rao, One Writer’s Battles, Weekly Standard, Nov. 10, 1996, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684160/11-10-96-Rao-One-Writers-Battles.pdf.  

[35] See Rao, supra n. 37.

[36] Neomi Rao, Shades of Gray, The Yale Herald, Oct. 14, 1994, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684161/10-14-94-Rao-Shades-of-Gray.pdf.  

[37] See id.

[38] See id.

[39] Zoe Tillman, Trump’s DC Circuit Nominee Neomi Rao Distanced Herself From Some of Her Inflammatory College Writings, Buzzfeed News, Feb. 5, 2009, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/neomi-rao-opeds-date-rape-trump-dc-circuit-nominee.  

[40]  Neomi Rao & Richard A. Biershbach, Integrating Remorse and Apology into Criminal Procedure, 114 Yale L.J. 85 (October 2004).

[41] Id. at 144-45.

[42] Neomi Rao, Mercy and Clemency: Forgiveness in Criminal Procedure, 4 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 329 (Spring 2007).  

Judge Wendy Williams Berger – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

Judge Wendy Williams Berger is not a stranger to the art of judging, having been a state judge in Florida for the last thirteen years.  Berger, who served as an aide under Gov. Jeb Bush, looks favored to take a lifetime appointment on the Florida federal bench.

Background

Berger was born Wendy Leigh Williams on December 1, 1968 in Athens, Georgia.  Berger graduated cum laude from Florida State University in 1990 and from the Florida State University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating, Berger joined the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in St. Augustine.[2]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Governor Jeb Bush as Assistant General Counsel and a Clemency Aide.[3]  She held that position until she was appointed in 2005 to be a Circuit Judge on the Seventh Judicial Circuit.[4]  In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott elevated Berger to be on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.[5]  She holds that position today.

In 2016, Berger was one of three finalists for an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court to the seat vacated by Justice James Perry.[6]  Scott ultimately chose to elevate Judge C. Alan Lawson, her colleague.

History of the Seat

Berger has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on June 3, 2015, when Judge John Steele moved to senior status.  On April 28, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale was nominated by President Obama to fill this vacancy.  However, even though Barksdale had the support of both Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the Senate did not take any action on her nomination.

In early 2017, Nelson and Rubio urged Trump to renominate Barksdale and two other unconfirmed Obama picks in Florida.[7]  While Trump renominated one of the candidates, William Jung, Barksdale was not renominated.

In October 2017, Berger applied for the judgeship with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Nelson and Rubio.[8]  She was interviewed by the JNC and was selected as a finalist in December 2017.[9]  After interviews with Nelson, Rubio, and the White House, Berger was nominated on April 10, 2018.

Legal Experience

Berger started her legal career as a Florida state prosecutor.  In this role, Berger tried approximately 50 trials, ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases.[10]  Notably, Berger prosecuted Tanya Hudson for the death of her baby, successfully obtaining two manslaughter convictions.[11]  For her part, Hudson argued that her baby was stillborn and that she had never intended to kill the child.[12]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Gov. Jeb Bush, advising him on legal issues and serving as his clemency aide.  In this role, Berger advised Bush on clemency petitions, monitored death row cases, and prepared death warrants for the Governor’s signature.[13]

Jurisprudence

Berger served as a Circuit Judge for Florida’s Seventh Judicial Circuit from 2005 to 2012, where she handled approximately 200 cases, including around 60 jury verdicts.[14]  Since 2012, Berger has served on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

In the course of Berger’s time as an appellate judge, she has been reversed by the Florida Supreme Court in approximately 15 cases.[15]  Similarly, Berger has been reversed 17 times during her tenure as a trial judge.[16]  Judging against the panoply of cases she has handled, this means that Berger’s rulings have been reversed in approximately 8-10% of her cases, a slightly higher level of reversal than other nominees profiled on this blog.

Overall Assessment

As Berger has served on the Florida state bench with little controversy over the past thirteen years, there seem to be few barriers to her successful confirmation.  Furthermore, Berger has the support of the Judicial Nominating Commission set up by Rubio and Nelson.  Even as Nelson is no longer in the Senate, this should help Berger gain a comfortable confirmation.  Nevertheless, we may see some questions raised about Berger’s prosecution of Hudson.  Nonetheless, while the Hudson case is controversial, it is unlikely to derail Berger’s confirmation entirely.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Wendy Williams Berger: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] In Brief, Daytona Beach News Journal, Apr. 29, 2005.

[5] Judge Berger Appointed to State Court of Appeal, Florida Times-Union, Aug. 22, 2012.

[6] Frank Fernandez, 2 Judges from Daytona Appeals Court Finalists for State Supreme Court, Daytona Beach News Journal, Nov. 29, 2016.

[7] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio, Nelson Urge Trump on 3 Judges, Florida Times-Union, March 24, 2017.

[8] See Berger supra n. 1 at 61-62.

[9] See id.

[10] See id. at 49.

[11] See Hudson v. State, 745 So. 2d 1014 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999); Hudson v. State, 792 So. 2d 474 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).

[12] Alexa Jaworski, Convicted Baby Killer Pleads For a New Life: Tanya Hudson Seeks to Overturn Verdict, The Florida Times Union, June 8, 2001, https://www.questia.com/newspaper/1G1-75408721/convicted-baby-killer-pleads-for-a-new-life-tanya.  

[13] See Berger supra n. 1 at 47-48.

[14] Id. at 16.

[15] See, e.g., Burton v. State, 191 So. 3d 543 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), quashed by Burton v. State, No. SC16-1116, 2018 WL 798521 (Fla. Feb. 9, 2018); Churchill v. State, 169 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 219 So. 3d 13 (Fla. 2017); Florence v. State, 128 So. 3d 198 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Weatherspoon v. State, 214 So. 3d 578 (Fla. 2017); State v. Myers, 169 So. 3d 1227 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 211 So. 3d 962 (Fla. 2017); Worley v. Cent. Fla. Young Men’s Christian Ass’n, 163 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015); Hilton Hotel Corp. v. Anderson, 153 So. 3d 412 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014), quashed by Anderson v. Hilton Hotel Corp., 202 So. 3d 846 (Fla. 2016).  

[16] See Biller v. State, 109 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Smith v. State, 204 So. 3d 18 (Fla. 2016); Leatherwood v. State, 108 So. 3d 1154 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013); Lee v. State, 89 So. 3d 290 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); Long v. State, 99 So. 3d 997 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); McKinnon v. State, 85 So. 3d 1188 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013);  Rose v. State, 68 So. 3d 377 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Wilbur v. State, 64 So. 3d 756 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Gonzalez-Ramos v. State, 46 So. 3d 67 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Allen v. State, 43 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Outin v. State, 12 So. 3d 322 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Eberhardt v. State, 5 So. 3d 783 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Helms v. State, 993 So. 2d 1135 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); McCauslin v. State, 985 So. 2d 558 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Lawrence v. State, 991 So. 2d 406 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Sadler v. State, 980 So. 2d 567 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Dasher v. State, 956 So. 2d 1209 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); Infinity Design Builders v. Hutchinson, 964 So. 2d 752 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007).