Judge Joseph Bianco – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Joseph Frank Bianco, a 52-year old federal judge for the Eastern District of New York, has been nominated for a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. From his days prosecuting crimes related to the September 11th attacks to ruling on MS-13 cases, Bianco earned a strong reputation as both a lawyer and a judge. He is well-respected in the legal community and likely to be confirmed.

Background

Bianco was born on September 11, 1966 in Flushing, New York. Bianco graduated from Columbia Law School in 1991 and clerked for the Reagan-appointed judge, Peter Leisure, of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1992 to 1993. After Bianco’s clerkship, he entered private practice as an associate at Simpson, Thatcher and Bartlett.

In 1994, Bianco began his long career in the public sector, serving as an Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) for the Southern District of New York. As an AUSA, Bianco gained exposure to cases involving terrorism and organized crime. Bianco briefly returned to private practice from 2003 to 2004 as counsel at the law firm of Debevoise & Plimpton. From 2004 until his judicial nomination in 2005, Bianco served as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the United States Department of Justice’s Criminal Division.

Bianco was nominated by President George W. Bush, and subsequently confirmed by the Senate, in 2005 to serve as a United States District Court Judge for the Eastern District of New York.

Throughout his career, Bianco has taught courses on terrorism, national security, and criminal procedure as an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law, Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University, the Touro Law Center, and St. John’s University School of Law.

A Catholic, Bianco earned his Master of Arts from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in 2013 and is an ordained Roman Catholic deacon.

History of the Seat

Bianco was nominated by President Trump on October 10, 2018 to sit on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. He is nominated to fill the seat vacated by Judge Reena Raggi, who took Senior Status on August 31, 2018.

Because the Senate did not act on his nomination before the end of the 115th Congress, Bianco’s nomination was returned to Trump on January 3, 2019. Trump subsequently resubmitted Bianco’s nomination, along with 51 others, on January 23, 2019, and the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on his nomination on February 13, 2019.

While both home state Senators Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton supported Bianco’s 2005 judicial nomination at that time, neither Senator Schumer nor Senator Kirsten Gillibrand returned a blue slip for his current nomination. Gillibrand has since stated that she and Schumer strongly object to the appointments of the “far-right-wing judicial nominees” Michael Park (also nominated for a seat on the Second Circuit) and Joseph Bianco.[1]

Political History

Bianco’s involvement in politics is limited to campaigning for Jack Kemp’s presidential bid in 1988 as an undergraduate student at Georgetown University.

Legal Career

Bianco spent his legal career prosecuting high-profile terrorism and organized crime cases. As an AUSA, Bianco brought cases against Mokhtar Haouari (for conspiring to provide material support to the terrorist plot to bomb LAX),[2] Ahmed Sattar and Lynne Stewart (for providing material support to a terrorist organization),[3] Ihab Ali Nawawi (Osama bin Laden’s personal pilot and messenger),[4] the Lucchese crime family (one of the “five families” of the Mafia),[5] and the Westies (an organized crime group operating out of Hell’s Kitchen).[6] At one point, Bianco led the unit prosecuting crimes related to the September 11th terrorist attacks.

At the Department of Justice, Bianco supervised the Counterterrorism Section, the Fraud Section, the Appellate Section, and the Capital Case Unit.[7] During this time, Bianco worked closely with former FBI directors Robert Mueller and James Comey, and current FBI director Christopher Wray.

Jurisprudence

Bianco has served as a judge for the Eastern District of New York since 2006. Approximately 70% of his caseload is civil, while 30% is criminal. From 2008 to 2018, ninety-five of Bianco’s judgments were appealed; only five have been remanded, reversed, or vacated by the reviewing court.

Criminal Law

Since 2011, Judge Bianco has overseen a large number of criminal cases involving MS-13 members. At least one of these cases—that of Josue Portillo, a MS-13 member who plead guilty to a quadruple murder in August 2018—garnered the attention of Trump, who used the case as a rallying cry to crack down on illegal immigration.[8]

Though Portillo was just 15 years-old at the time of the murders, Bianco granted the government’s motion to charge him (as well as the co-defendants in the case) as adults, citing the severity of the crime and inadequacy of the juvenile justice system as partial justifications.[9] In other cases involving MS-13 members, however, Judge Bianco has shown leniency. In the case of Elmer Alexander Lopez, Bianco handed down less than the maximum sentence because the defendant had shown remorse for his actions.[10]

Employment Law

Bianco has a tendency to favor the defendant in employment law cases, fully or partially granting a motion to dismiss 84% of the time.[11] Bianco notably granted a motion to dismiss federal claims in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc.[12] In Zarda, the plaintiff claimed he was discriminated against by his employer because of his sexual orientation, arguing that such discrimination was in violation of Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination.

Per Second Circuit precedent at that time,[13] Bianco dismissed Zarda’s federal claims but allowed his state claims to proceed to trial. In 2018, the Second Circuit, sitting en banc, overturned decades-old precedent in finding that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sex necessarily encompasses claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Search & Seizure

Bianco often rules in favor of the state in Fourth Amendment search and seizure cases. In the case of U.S. v. Bailey,[14] Bianco’s ruling on a Summers detainment led to a reversal by the United States Supreme Court.

In Bailey, Bianco held that police validly detained the defendant pursuant to a warrant to search the defendant’s home, despite detaining him about a mile away from his property. Relying on the Summers rule, which allows officers “to detain occupants of the premises while a proper search is conducted,” Bianco held that the detention was valid because it was made “as soon as practicable.”

The Supreme Court reversed Bianco’s decision, holding that detainments pursuant to Summers are “limited to the immediate vicinity of the property to be searched,” further stating that the defendant in the case at hand was “detained at a point beyond any reasonable understanding of the immediate vicinity of the premises in question.”[15]

Speeches

Bianco has a long list of speaking engagements, dating back to his early years of practice. He speaks frequently at Federalist Society events on topics such as originalism, judicial restraint, national security, and government enforcement in the private sector.

Originalism

Bianco describes himself as a “really big fan of Justice Scalia,” stating that, “as a judge, I strongly share his originalist or textualist philosophy.”[16] In the last two years, Bianco has spoken at two Federalist Society events celebrating Scalia’s legacy.[17]

National Security

During his career as a prosecutor, Bianco spoke at a number of events, often highlighting the need of military courts and alternative tribunals in terrorism prosecutions. At a March 2007 event titled, “The Role of Terrorism on Judges and Judicial Activism,” Bianco expressed a need for tribunals and alternative judicial forums to try international terrorism cases. During his presentation he stated, “People will say to me, ‘Well, just let it go through the open court system,’ but without that classified evidence, some cases just won’t go very far.”[18]
More recently, at a January 2017 event, Bianco stated that, “[c]ivilian courts are not well-equipped to try terrorists whose terrorist activity takes place entirely, or almost entirely, overseas.” And at an October 2018 event, Bianco spoke about the difficulties of bringing foreign witnesses or classified evidence into U.S. Courts.[19]

Overall Assessment

Bianco has enjoyed an illustrious career prosecuting and overseeing some of the highest-profile terrorism and organized crime cases of his time. While neither home state senator has returned a blue slip for his nomination, Bianco enjoys a unanimous “Well Qualified” rating from the American Bar Association[20] and frequent praise from his colleagues.[21]

Bianco, a self-proclaimed originalist with a record of conservatism on matters of national security and police powers, will likely soon assume a seat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.


[1] Sens. Gillibrand, Schumer Object to Federal Court Appointments, Watertown Daily Times, Feb. 17, 2019, https://www.watertowndailytimes.com/news03/sens-gillibrand-schumer-object-to-federal-court-appointments-20190217&.

[2] U.S. v. Haouari, 2001 WL 1154714 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).

[3] U.S. v. Sattar, 2003 WL 22137012 (S.D.N.Y. 2003).

[4] In re: Grand Jury Subpoena of Ihab Ali, 1999 WL 595665 (S.D.N.Y. 1999); see also Nancy Peckenham, Judge Rules Government May Restrict Access to Evidence in Case Tied to Bin Laden, CNN, Nov. 6, 2000, http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/11/06/ali.perjury.trial.int/.

[5] U.S. v. Defede, 7 F.Supp.2d 390 (S.D.N.Y. 1998).

[6] U.S. v. Bokun, 73 F.3d 8 (S.D.N.Y. 1995).

[7] United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, Judge Joseph F. Bianco, https://www.nyed.uscourts.gov/content/judge-joseph-f-bianco.

[8] Liz Robbins, MS-13 Gang Member Pleads Guilty in Quadruple Murder Highlighted by Trump, New York Times, Aug. 20, 2018.

[9] U.S. v. Juvenile Male, 327 F. Supp. 3d 573 (E.D.N.Y. 2018).

[10] Michael O’Keefe, MS-13 Member Sentenced to 25 Years for Killing Fellow Gang Member in Brentwood, Newsday, Dec. 18, 2018, https://www.newsday.com/long-island/crime/ms-13-killings-brentwood-1.24712041.

[11] Carmen Castro-Pagan, Know Your Judge: Joseph F. Bianco, Bloomberg Law, April 18, 2018, https://biglawbusiness.com/know-your-judge-joseph-f-bianco.

[12] Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., No. 10 Civ. 4334 (oral decision), aff’d, 855 F.3d 76 (2d. Cir. 2017), rev’d en banc, 883 F.3d 100 (2d Cir. 2018).

[13] Simonton v. Runyon, 232 F.3d 33 (2d Cir. 2000).

[14] Bailey v. U.S., 568 U.S. 186 (2013).

[15] U.S. v. Bailey, 133 S.Ct. 1031, 1042 (2013).

[16] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Nomination of Joseph Bianco to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Questions for the Record, Feb. 20, 2019, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Bianco%20Responses%20to%20QFRs.pdf.

[17] The Federalist Society, Contributors: Joseph Bianco, https://fedsoc.org/contributors/joseph-bianco (last visited March 1, 2019).  

[18] Columbia Law School, Judge Bianco on Terrorism and the Role of Judges, March 2007, https://www.law.columbia.edu/pt-br/node/83221.

[19] Columbia Law School, Federal Judge Provides Behind-the-Scene Look at Terrorism Cases, Oct. 26, 2018.

[20] American Bar Association, Ratings of Article III and Article IV Judicial Nominees (last visited March 2, 2019), https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/GAO/Web%20rating%20Chart%20Trump%20115.pdf.

[21] James M. Wick, Hon. Joseph Bianco, The Federal Lawyer, Aug. 2018, http://www.fedbar.org/Resources_1/Judicial-Profiles/Judicial-PDFs/Hon-Bianco.aspx.

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