Judge John Badalamenti – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

A longtime public defender, Judge John Badalamenti is President Trump’s fourth nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Background

The 45-year-old Badalamenti received a B.A. in Criminology and an M.A. in Sociology from the University of Florida.[1]  Badalamenti then received his J.D. from the University of Florida Levin College of Law, after which he joined the U.S. Attorney General’s Honors Program, where he was placed with the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Atlanta.[2]

After his time with the Honors Program, Badalamenti clerked for Judges Frank Hull and Judge Paul Roney on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit before joining the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Middle District of Florida.[3] 

In 2015, Badalamenti was appointed to the Second District Court of Appeal in Florida by Governor Rick Scott.  He still holds the judgeship.

History of the Seat

Badalamenti has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on December 14, 2018, when Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich moved to senior status.  

Badalamenti was one of four finalists nominated for this court by the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Florida Senators Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio in December 2017.[4]  Badalamenti was formally nominated on February 4, 2020.

Legal Experience

Badalamenti has most of his pre-bench career as a federal public defender, an unusual background for a judicial nominee, particularly one in a Republican administration.  In his role as a federal public defender, Badalamenti practiced before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, as well as the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  For example, in one case, Badalamenti successfully got the sentences of his client reversed on the grounds that a prior conviction for carrying a concealed weapon should not be considered a “violent” crime for sentencing enhancement.[5] 

However, Badalamenti’s most notable case was Yates v. United States, which he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.[6]  In the case, his client was caught catching grouper that were too small to fit under federal regulations, and subsequently disposed of the small fish before federal authorities could inspect the catch.[7]  Yates was prosecuted and convicted for destruction of evidence under a provision in the Sarbanes-Oxley Act that criminalized destroying “tangible objects” while impeding federal investigations.[8]  Ultimately, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, agreed with Badalamenti that the Sarbanes-Oxley charges were improper.[9]  The ruling cut across ideological lines with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the opinion striking down the conviction, which was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Stephen Breyer, Samuel Alito, and Sonia Sotomayor.[10]  Meanwhile, Justice Elena Kagan dissented, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas.

Judicial Experience

Badalamenti served as an appellate judge in Florida since 2015.  In this role, Badalamenti serves as an intermediate appellate judge, reviewing criminal and civil appeals from the county courts and the circuit courts.  

Among his most notable cases while sitting as an appellate judge, Badalamenti joined an opinion finding that the state of Florida needed to reimburse Lee County homeowners for cutting down healthy citrus trees, an act committed to slow down the spread of citrus-canker disease.[11]  Badalamenti agreed with the trial court that the Takings Clause of the Florida Constitution required repayment even where the repayment had not been authorized by the Florida legislature.[12]

Overall Assessment

Much ink has been spelled on the relative paucity of public defenders on the federal bench compared to prosecutors, and the brutal campaign against Judge Jane Kelly, another former public defender, during her brief consideration for the Supreme Court helps explain why that gap exists.  

Nonetheless, public defenders perform an important constitutional duty in the criminal justice process.  Given his support from Trump and Florida’s Republican senators, Badalamenti should be able to avoid any negative comment from his work.


[1] Florida Second Circuit Court of Appeal, Judge John L. Badalamenti, Biography (available at https://www.2dca.org/Judges/Judge-John-L.-Badalamenti),

[2] Id.

[3] Id. 

[4] Fellow nominees Thomas Barber and Wendy Berger were also finalists.

[5] United States v. Canty, 570 F.3d 1251 (11th Cir. 2009).

[6] See 135 S. Ct. 1074.

[7] See Robert Barnes, Justices Tackle the Case of the Missing Grouper: Federal Prosecutors Used a Portion of the Law to Tackle a Commercial Fisherman Who Threw Some Back, Wash. Post, Nov. 5, 2014.

[8] See In re Rosemary Frost, Case No. 2001-1954 (Fla. Cir. Ct. 2001).

[9] Supreme Court: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, CNN Wire, Feb. 25, 2015.

[10] See id.

[11] See Jim Saunders, Court Says State Should Pay in Citrus Fight, The News Service of Florida, Nov. 13, 2019, https://cbs12.com/news/local/court-says-state-should-should-pay-in-citrus-fight.

[12] See id.

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