Katherine Crytzer – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee

36-year-old Katherine Crytzer was already before the Senate seeking an executive appointment when she was nominated for a federal judgeship.  While Crytzer’s nomination to be Inspector General was never confirmed by the Senate, her nomination to be a federal judge remains an open question.

Background

Born in 1984, Katherine A. Crytzer graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 2006 and attended George Mason University Law School, graduating in 2009.  Crytzer then clerked for Judge Steven Colloton on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

After her clerkship, Crytzer joined Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.  In 2014, Crytzer joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky as a federal prosecutor.  In 2017, Crytzer joined the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice.  Since 2020, Crytzer has served as Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy in the Department of Justice.

In 2020, Crytzer was nominated to be the Inspector General for the Tennessee Valley Authority, replacing acting Inspector General Jill Matthews.[1]  However, Crytzer’s nomination came under fire for her refusal to disavow the Administration’s practice of dismissing Inspector Generals for their investigation and oversight activities.[2]  Crytzer’s nomination cleared the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee by a narrow 12-11 vote, but never received a vote on the Senate floor.

History of the Seat

Crytzer has been nominated to fill a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee.  This seat opened on September 10, 2020, with the untimely death of Judge Pamela Reeves.

Legal Career

Crytzer started her legal career by clerking on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit and then in private practice at Kirkland & Ellis.  While at the firm, Crytzer was part of a legal team that challenged California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard as being pre-empted by federal law, and discriminating against interstate commerce in violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause.[3]

From 2014 to 2017, Crytzer worked as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Kentucky.  As a prosecutor, Crytzer argued before the Sixth Circuit in support of the stop, detention, and frisk of suspected drug traffickers.[4]  A 2-1 decision of the Sixth Circuit held that the Officer lacked probable cause for the frisk, and vacated the conviction.[5] 

Since 2017, Crytzer has worked at the Department of Legal Policy, working primarily on judicial nominations.  In this role, Crytzer helped “shepherd” the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh through the Senate.[6]

Writings

As a law student, Crytzer authored a law review article considering when, under Supreme Court precedent, the publication of unfavorable information about a public employee implicates their due process interests.[7]  Crytzer argued that the Supreme Court should confirm an “actual publication” test adopted by two circuits, holding that the only way that an employee’s due process rights would be harmed is with the “actual publication” of the unfavorable information to third parties.[8]

Overall Assessment

With less than ten weeks left in the Trump Presidency, Crytzer faces a narrow window for confirmation.  Additionally, given her youth, the opposition to her executive appointment, and her work on Justice Kavanaugh’s confirmation process, Crytzer is likely to be considered a controversial nominee.


[1] Georgiana Vines, Katie Crytzer Introduced as Potential TVA Inspector General, Knox News, May 31, 2020, https://www.knoxnews.com/story/news/columnists/georgiana-vines/2020/06/01/katie-crytzer-introduced-potential-tva-inspector-general/5284749002/.

[2] Newswire, Democrats Balk at TVA Inspector General Pick, Greenwire, July 1, 2020.

[3] See Rocky Mt. Farmers Union v. Corey, 730 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2012).

[4] See United States v. Noble, 762 F.3d 509 (6th Cir. 2014).

[5] See id. at 529.

[6] See Jerry Lambe, Trump’s Latest Judicial Nominee Is DOJ Attorney Who Helped Kavanaugh’s Confirmation to Supreme Court, Newstex Blogs, Sept. 16, 2020.

[7] Katherine Crytzer, You’re Fired! Bishop v. Wood: When Does a Letter in a Former Public Employee’s Personnel File Deny a Due Process Liberty Right, 16 Geo. Mason L. Rev. 447 (Winter 2009).

[8] See id. at 449.

Thomas Kirsch – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

U.S. Attorney Thomas Kirsch, nominated to replace now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett, has an exceedingly narrow time window to confirmation.  Nonetheless, with the Presidency switching parties in two months, Republicans are nonetheless expected to prioritize the nomination.

Background

Thomas Lee Kirsch II was born on January 25, 1974.  He attended Indiana University, graduating in 1996.  He then received his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1999.  After graduating, Kirsch clerked for Judge John Daniel Tinder on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.[1] 

After his clerkship, Kirsch spent a year at the firm of Jenner & Block and then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana as a federal prosecutor.  In 2006, Kirsch was detailed to Main Justice as Counsel for the Office of Legal Policy.

In 2008, Kirsch left to join the Chicago office of Winston & Strawn as a Partner.  He worked as the firm until he was chosen to be U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana by the Trump Administration in 2017.[2]  He continues to work in that capacity today.

History of the Seat

Kirsch has been nominated for an Indiana seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  This seat opened on October 26, 2020, when Judge Amy Coney Barrett was elevated to the U.S. Supreme Court.  Kirsch’s nomination was announced five days earlier on October 21, 2020.

Political Activity

Kirsch has occasionally donated to political candidates, exclusively Republicans.[3]  Among the recipients are Sen. John McCain, Sen. Richard Lugar, Sen. Mitt Romney, Rep. Todd Rokita, and Sen. Todd Young.

Legal Practice

Kirsch’s first legal position after his clerkship was at Jenner & Block.  Since that point, he has extensive experience in two primary roles: as a federal prosecutor; and as a defense attorney at Winston & Strawn.

Federal Prosecutor

From 2001 to 2008, Kirsch worked as a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Indiana.  During his time with the office, Kirsch prosecuted James Fife, an aide to East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick, for hiding hundreds of thousands of dollars in public money.[4]

Winston & Strawn

In 2008, Kirsch joined the Chicago Office of Winston & Strawn as a partner.  At Winston, Kirsch primarily focused on white collar criminal defense, including advising companies that were targets of government investigations.  

Among the most notable cases he handled at Winston, Kirsch represented William Cellini, an Illinois Republican with close ties to former Gov. Rod Blagojevich who was convicted for extorting campaign contributions from Blagojevich.[5]  Kirsch also represented TV pitchman Kevin Trudeau, who was convicted of lying in his infomercials.[6] 

U.S. Attorney

Since 2017, Kirsch has served as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana.  In this role, Kirsch leads all federal prosecutors in the district, sets enforcement priorities, and handles high profile matters.  Notably, shortly after his confirmation, Kirsch had to oversee a series of high-profile prosecutions related to the use of pipe bombs.  For example, Kirsch prosecuted GOP activist Eric Krieg for mailing a pipe bomb to an attorney (the bomb exploded at a post office).[7]  More recently, Kirsch has led investigations into scammers targeting individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.[8]

Writings

As an associate at Jenner & Block, Kirsch authored an article discussing the difficulties of securing victim cooperation in prosecuting domestic violence.[9]  In the article, Kirsch discusses various factors that might lead victims not to cooperate with prosecutors, and evaluates the possibility of forcing victims to testify.  Kirsch ultimately concludes that the costs of forcing a victim to participate, which include the possibility of retraumatizing the victim, ultimately outweigh the benefits.[10]

Overall Assessment

As Barrett was undergoing confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, the White House vetted a number of candidates for the Seventh Circuit, including White House attorney Kate Todd.[11]  In choosing Kirsch over a younger, more ideological choice like Todd, the White House is recognizing the political reality.  No President since Jimmy Carter has seen a post-election confirmation of an appellate nominee (and the confirmation of Judge Stephen Breyer late in 1980 was only done with the acquiescence of Senate Republicans).  With Democrats unlikely to endorse filling judgeships this late in the Trump Presidency, Republicans will have to stick together to confirm Kirsch.  The good news for Kirsch backers is that the nominee is unlikely to incite much opposition and, barring any unexpected developments, Republicans are likely to squeeze him through.


[1] Tinder was later elevated to the Seventh Circuit and held the seat that Kirsch now seeks appointment to.

[4] See A.P., Former East Chicago Mayor Aide Gets Prison Time for Hiding Money, A.P. State & Local Wire, Apr. 3, 2006.

[5] See Michael Tarm, Prosecutors: Cellini Deserves 8 Years in Prison, A.P. State & Local Wire, July 13, 2012.

[6] See Michael Tarm, TV Pitchman Jailed After Jurors Find Him Guilty, A.P. State & Local Wire, Nov. 12, 2013.

[7] A.P., Man Gets 29 Years for Post Office Pipe Bomb Addressed to Lawyer, The Indiana Lawyer, Apr. 5, 2019, https://www.theindianalawyer.com/articles/49911-man-gets-29-years-for-post-office-pipe-bomb-addressed-to-lawyer.

[8] See Marek Mazurek, Scammers Capitalize on Virus Fears, South Bend Tribune, Apr. 13, 2020.

[9]Thomas L. Kirsch II, Problems in Domestic Violence: Should Victims Be Forced to Participate in the Prosecution of Their Abusers?, 7 Wm. & Mary J. of Women & L. 383 (Winter 2001).

[10] See id. at 426-27.

[11] Chip Somodeville, Trump and McConnell Are Reportedly Already Discussing Amy Coney Barrett’s 7th Circuit Replacement, The Week, Sept. 28, 2020, https://theweek.com/speedreads/940066/trump-mcconnell-are-reportedly-already-discussing-amy-coney-barretts-7th-circuit-replacement.