Despite having six appointees confirmed to the court in 2020 alone, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) has been battling a long-term vacancy crisis, with four seats on the court vacant. In an effort to fill them, President Biden has renominated a stalled nominee from the Obama Administration: Armando Bonilla.
Born in 1967 in New York City, Armando Omar Bonilla received his B.A. from West Virginia University in 1989 and his J.D. from Seton Hall University School of Law in 1992. After graduation, Bonilla clerked for Judge Garrett Brown for the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey.
After his clerkship, Bonilla joined the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice as a trial attorney. In 2001, he moved to the Criminal Division, starting in the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section and moving to the Public Integrity Section. In 2010, Bonilla joined the Deputy Attorney General’s Office.
Since 2018, Bonilla has served as Vice President of Ethics and Investigations at Capital One.
History of the Seat
Bonilla has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC), an Article I court that hears monetary claims against the federal government. Judges to the CFC are appointed for 15-year terms, and can be reappointed. The seat Bonilla is nominated for opened up on October 22, 2013, with the retirement of Judge Edward Damich. On May 21, 2014, Bonilla was nominated for this seat by President Obama. Bonilla and four other nominees to the Court were approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously. However, the nominations were blocked by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR), who argued that the CFC did not need any more judges. Despite rebuttals from federal claims attorneys and Chief Judge Patricia Campbell-Smith, Cotton maintained his blockade, and the Obama Administration was unable to fill any vacancies on the Court, leaving six of the sixteen judgeships vacant.
On June 24, 2019, the Trump Administration nominated Daniel Zachary Epstein, a Special Assistant to the President, to fill this seat. However, Epstein’s nomination stalled in the Senate and he was never confirmed.
Bonilla was subsequently renominated to fill this vacancy on July 13, 2021.
Bonilla has spent virtually his entire legal career working in the Department of Justice, where he worked on civil, criminal, and appellate litigation.
Notably, on the civil side, Bonilla represented the United States in defending against a lawsuit by the architects hired to design the Museum of the American Indian, alleging that the contract was wrongfully terminated. See GBQC Architects v. United States, No. 98-399C (Fed. Cl.) (Judge Miller). Bonilla also defended the Department of Veterans Affairs decision not to permit the display of a large Confederate flag at a national cemetery against a First Amendment challenge. See Griffin v. Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs, 288 F.3d 1309 (Fed. Cir.).
Among the criminal cases he handled, Bonilla prosecuted Katherine Stump, a New Orleans Sewarage and Water board member for conspiracy and wire fraud for accepting cash and gifts in exchange for promoting the interests of a Houston sewage company. See Pam Easton, New Orleans Water Board Chair, Contractor Sentenced to Prison for Wire Fraud, Conspiracy, A.P. State & Local Wire, Sept. 29, 2003.
The fact that Bonilla’s last appointment to the Court of Federal Claims stalled speaks more to the Senate’s intransigence on judicial nominees late in the Obama Administration than it does to Bonilla. With a Senate majority more willing to consider CFC nominees, Bonilla should be confirmed before the end of the year.