Last week, we looked at thirteen district court judges who would be strongly considered for elevation to the Court of Appeals under a prospective President Biden. This week, we’ll look at thirteen district court judges who would be considered for elevation by President Trump if he is re-elected to a second term. As we did last week, we’ll limit our pick to thirteen judges, one for each Court of Appeal.
Judge Trevor McFadden (D.D.C.)
Judge Trevor McFadden is not only the youngest member of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (McFadden is only 42), but he is also the most conservative. In his three years on the bench, McFadden has racked up a number of rulings in favor of the Trump Administration, including ruling that the House of Representatives lacks standing to enforce its appropriations in court and in delaying the House suit seeking the President’s tax returns. McFadden’s bid for the D.C. Circuit would be hampered by the hundreds of qualified D.C. conservatives who’d want such a post, but if the Administration wants a district court judge, McFadden would be their expected pick.
Judge Lance Walker (D. Me.)
Maine Judge Lance Walker may seem like an idiosyncratic choice for the Trump Administration to elevate, given his past decisions against anti-abortion groups and his ruling that essentially singlehandedly ensured the ranked-choice election of Democrat Jared Golden. However, Walker, who would be only 51 when Judge William Kayatta would become eligible for senior status in 2023, is also a longtime member of the National Rifle Association and the Federalist Society. Given this and his bipartisan confirmation to the district court, Walker may well be an ideal choice for Trump for this left-leaning circuit.
Judge Rachel Kovner (E.D.N.Y.)
Judge Rachel Kovner certainly has the pedigree to sit on the Second Circuit, having clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson and for Justice Antonin Scalia. Also considering that Kovner has argued 11 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and was confirmed with an overwhelming 88-3 margin, it seems more a matter of when, rather than if, Judge Kovner will be elevated. While the forty year old judge has time on her side, she is likely to be closely scrutinized in a second Trump Administration.
Judge William Stickman (W.D. Pa.)
There is a good chance that Chief Judge Brooks Smith on the Third Circuit will move to senior status upon the conclusion of his term as Chief Judge in 2021, and Judge Stickman, who would only be 42 then, will likely be one of the leading contenders to replace him. Despite a conservative record, Stickman had the support of Democratic Sen. Bob Casey in his district court confirmation, although, as Judge Peter Phipps experienced, support on the district court level is not a guarantee of support for an appellate seat.
Judge Thomas Kleeh (S.D.W.V.)
The 46 year old Kleeh has largely avoided making waves in his two years on the federal bench. Nonetheless, Kleeh, who has strong connections with the West Virginia legal community, would likely be first on the list if Judge Robert King moved to senior status in a second Trump term.
Judge Brantley Starr (N.D. Tex.)
Judge Brantley Starr, who was confirmed to the Northern District of Texas last year has already made a name for himself on controversial cases, ruling that the federal government couldn’t ban bump stocks without compensating individuals under the Takings Clause, and his background prompting a transgender plaintiff to ask the judge to recuse himself from her case. The 41 year old Starr is primed for a Fifth Circuit appointment, potentially if the equally conservative and inflammatory Judge Edith Jones moves to senior status in a second Trump term.
Judge Hala Jarbou (W.D. Mich.)
We’re cheating slightly with this one as Judge Jarbou has not yet been confirmed to the federal bench, but a vote on her nomination has been teed up for September, and she will likely sail to confirmation. With two Michigan judges on the Sixth Circuit eligible for senior status and a third set to become eligible next year, the 49-year-old Jarbou would make a readily confirmable nominee, even if the Administration faces a Democratic Senate.
Judge Martha Pacold (N.D. Ill.)
The 41 year old Judge Pacold, despite having clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas and having a conservative’s dream resume, was nearly unanimously confirmed by the U.S. Senate to the trial court. While it is unclear if she would attract that level of support if elevated to the Seventh Circuit, she is likely to be considered the leading candidate to replace Judge Ilana Rovner if she retires in a second Trump term.
Judge Sarah Pitlyk (E.D. Mo.)
If Judge William Duane Benton moves to senior status in a second Trump term, expect the shortlist for his seat to essentially consist of one candidate: Pitlyk. The 43 year old Pitlyk, who squeaked to confirmation over bipartisan opposition, would be a dream candidate for conservatives, given her vocal support for Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination and her strong anti-abortion record.
Judge Dominic Lanza (D. Ariz.)
It’s interesting that Lanza is a strong contender for the Ninth Circuit in a second Trump term given the fact that he was already rejected for a Ninth Circuit seat once by Trump. The 44 year old jurist was originally recommended to be appointed to the Ninth Circuit by Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake, only to be rejected by the Trump Administration, who were pushing Administration attorney James Burnham. Ultimately, the Administration went with the Senators’ second choice, Judge Bridget Bade, and Lanza got a consolation appointment to the district court. Now, Lanza, who was recently in the news for rejecting challenges to Arizona’s mail-in-ballot deadlines, will be closely watched for the Ninth Circuit if Judge Andrew Hurwitz moves to senior status in 2022.
Judge Patrick Wyrick (W.D. Okla.)
The 39-year-old Judge, who previously served on the Oklahoma Supreme Court, was previously the youngest nominee on President Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist. Few believe that Wyrick will be tapped for the highest court without building a record on the Court of Appeals, and if an Oklahoma vacancy opens (neither of the 10th Circuit’s Oklahoma judges will be eligible to retire in the next four years), Wyrick’s name will be at the top of the list.
Judge Roy Altman (S.D. Fl.)
The 38 year old Altman was the youngest district court judge in the country when he was appointed in 2019, and, despite that youth, he sailed to confirmation by a 2-1 margin, a landslide among recent confirmation votes. Altman will likely be strongly considered for a seat on the Eleventh Circuit if Judge Charles Wilson moves to senior status in a second Trump term, or if Judges Lagoa or Luck are elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Amos Mazzant (E.D. Tex.)
The Federal Circuit generally attracts less controversy than the other courts of appeals, which may be a reason for the Trump Administration to tap one of many young lawyers it has named to the Court of Federal Claims. However, if it chooses an Article III appointee, Judge Amos Mazzant, who currently serves on the Eastern District of Texas, is a possible choice. Judge Mazzant may have been named to the bench by President Obama, but he’s a strong conservative who was recommended by Sen. Ted Cruz. Additionally, the 55-year-old Judge Mazzant has over a decade of experience on the patent heavy docket of the Eastern District of Texas, which would prepare him well for the Federal Circuit.
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