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).

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