Judge Peter Phipps – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

The 46-year-old Peter Phipps faced an uncontentious confirmation to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania last year.  Now, just a few months later, Phipps is up for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Background

Peter Joseph Phipps was born on April 8, 1973 at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX.[1]  Phipps attended the University of Dayton, getting a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Physics.[2]  He continued on to the Stanford University Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1998.  He then joined the Washington D.C. Office of Jones Day (a firm that has sent many alumni to the Trump Administration and the federal bench).[3]

In 2001, Phipps left Jones Day to clerk for Judge R. Guy Cole on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  He then joined the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.[4] 

Phipps was nominated in February 2018 to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  He was confirmed by voice vote on October 11, 2018, and has served on the federal bench since then.

History of the Seat

Phipps has been nominated to Judge Thomas Vanaskie’s seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Vanaskie, a Democrat, was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsyvania by President Bill Clinton in 1994 and to the Third Circuit by President Obama in 2010.

Phipps’ nomination is opposed by Democratic Senator Bob Casey, who argues that Phipps lacks the experience on the bench for a seat on the Court of Appeals.[5] 

Legal Experience

While Phipps’s primary legal occupation has been as a litigator at the Department of Justice, he began his career as an Associate in the Washington D.C. Office of Jones Day, representing corporations in civil litigation.[6]  Overall, Phipps has worked as counsel of record in three civil trials, as well as handling appellate matters in other cases.[7]

As Senior Trial Counsel at the Federal Programs Branch of the Department of Justice, Phipps litigated many contentious cases.  In one case, Phipps defended the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against a class action suit brought by African American plaintiffs alleging racial discrimination in public housing.[8]  Through the litigation, which lasted ten years, Phipps worked through two separate trials, and managed to negotiate a settlement in the case.[9] 

In another notable case, Phipps defended the constitutionality of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred individuals engaging in homosexual conduct from serving openly in the armed forces.[10]  In yet another case, Phipps defended the constitutionality of HHS grants for faith based organizations that have religious objections to abortion and contraception.[11] 

More recently, Phipps defended the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA).[12]  PASPA’s constitutionality was challenged by New Jersey, which sought to legalize sports betting in its state in violation of the Act.[13]  Phipps represented the government in several suits before the District Court, the Third Circuit, and in certiorari arguments before the U.S Supreme Court.[14]

Jurisprudence

Phipps has served as a U.S. District Judge on the Western District of Pennsylvania since late October 2018.  In his short time on the bench, Phipps has presided over just one case that has gone to verdict or judgment, a $125,000 jury verdict for a plaintiff in a workplace injury trial.[15]  In other notable opinions, Phipps granted summary judgment against a plaintiff who was injured in a slip-and-fall, finding that there was not enough evidence to support plaintiff’s contention that there was a wet floor on the premises.[16]

Overall Assessment

When Phipps was nominated for the district court, we predicted a painless confirmation due to his relatively apolitical background and strong background.  Notwithstanding Casey’s opposition, there is still little in Phipps’ record to warrant strong opposition to the Third Circuit.  Phipps’ record does not suggest that he is particularly conservative, let alone an activist.  While the White House should have accommodated Casey’s concerns regarding Phipps’ level of experience, the nominee has more judicial experience than five out of the last six nominees selected for the Third Circuit.  As such, I predict a swift, if not entirely painless, confirmation for Phipps to the Third Circuit, and a relatively centrist tenure on the court.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Peter J. Phipps: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] See id.

[5] Press Release, Alliance for Justice, Peter Phipps Should Not Be Confirmed to Third Circuit (May 31, 2019).

[6] Id. at 10.

[7] Id. at 11-12.

[8] Thompson v. HUD, No. 95-395 (D. Md.) (Garbis, J.) (Grimm, J.).

[9] See id.

[10] Witt v. United States Air Force, No. 06-5195 (W.D. Wash.) (Leighton, J.).

[11] American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California v. Hargan, No. 16-3539 (N.D. Cal.) (Beeler, M.J.).

[12] See NCAA v. Christie, Nos. 3:12-4947; 3:14-6450 (D.N.J.) (Shipp, J.); Nos. 13-1713,-1714,-1715 (3d Cir.); Nos. 14-4546,-4568,-4569 (3d Cir.) (subsequently en banc); Nos. 13-967; -979; -980, Nos. 16-476,-477 (U.S.).

[13] See id.

[14] Commonwealth v. Opperman, 780 A.2d 714 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).

[15] Powers v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., Case No. 2:17-cv-648 (W.D. Pa.).

[16] Wood v. Speedway LLC, Civil Action No. 2:17-cv-1408, 2019 WL 2248671 (W.D. Pa. May 24, 2019).

Peter Phipps – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

A DOJ litigator with extensive experience in the federal courts, the 45-year-old Peter Phipps looks likely to join the Western District of Pennsylvania before the end of the year.

Background

Peter Joseph Phipps was born on April 8, 1973 at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, TX.[1]  Phipps attended the University of Dayton, getting a B.A. in History and a B.S. in Physics.[2]  He continued on to the Stanford University Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1998.  He then joined the Washington D.C. Office of Jones Day (a firm that has sent many alumni to the Trump Administration and the federal bench).[3]

In 2001, Phipps left Jones Day to clerk for Judge R. Guy Cole on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  He then joined the Federal Programs Branch of the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.[4]  He is still with the same office in Washington D.C., working as Senior Trial Counsel.  Phipps has also served as an Adjunct Professor at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh since 2014.[5]

History of the Seat

The seat Phipps has been nominated for opened on September 30, 2013, with Judge Terrence McVerry’s move to senior status.  On July 30, 2015, President Obama nominated Judge Marilyn Horan from the Butler County Court of Common Pleas to fill the vacancy.[6]  The nomination of Horan, a Republican, was made as a package along with those of three Democrats to other vacancies.

While all four nominees in the package received a hearing on December 9, 2015, two of them, Judge Robert Colville, and Judge John Milton Younge, were blocked from Judiciary Committee consideration by Chairman Chuck Grassley, who was unhappy with their support of abortion rights.[7]  At the same time, Horan and Judge Susan Baxter were blocked by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor and were never confirmed.  Both were ultimately renominated by Trump.[8]

Phipps applied to the bipartisan judicial selection committee set up by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey in April 2017.[9]  Phipps interviewed with Toomey and Casey and was then recommended to the White House.  He was formally nominated on February 15, 2018.

Legal Experience

While Phipps’s primary legal occupation has been as a litigator at the Department of Justice, he began his career as an Associate in the Washington D.C. Office of Jones Day, representing corporations in civil litigation.[10]  Overall, Phipps has worked as counsel of record in three civil trials, as well as handling appellate matters in other cases.[11]

As Senior Trial Counsel at the Federal Programs Branch of the Department of Justice, Phipps litigated many contentious cases.  In one case, Phipps defended the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development against a class action suit brought by African American plaintiffs alleging racial discrimination in public housing.[12]  Through the litigation, which lasted ten years, Phipps worked through two separate trials, and managed to negotiate a settlement in the case.[13]

In another notable case, Phipps defended the constitutionality of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred individuals engaging in homosexual conduct from serving openly in the armed forces.[14]  In yet another case, Phipps defended the constitutionality of HHS grants for faith based organizations that have religious objections to abortion and contraception.[15]

More recently, Phipps defended the constitutionality of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992 (PASPA).[16]  PASPA’s constitutionality was challenged by New Jersey, which sought to legalize sports betting in its state in violation of the Act.[17]  Phipps represented the government in several suits before the District Court, the Third Circuit, and in certiorari arguments before the U.S Supreme Court.[18]

Overall Assessment

While Phipps, at 45, is a relatively young judicial nominee, his qualifications for the federal bench are unquestionable.  As an attorney with the Federal Programs Branch of the Department of Justice, Phipps has had experience in some of the most consequential litigation the Department engages in, preparing him well for the  issues he would face as a trial judge.

Skeptics may draw opposition based on Phipps’ defense of DADT and grants to faith-based organizations.  However, as an attorney at Federal Programs, Phipps has an ethical responsibility to present defenses to federal laws and regulations and his views in litigation cannot necessary be imputed as his personal views.

Overall, given that Phipps has the support of his Democratic and Republican home-state senators, as well as a fairly noncontroversial record, he looks set for a relatively painless confirmation.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Peter J. Phipps: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] See id. at 2.

[4] See id.

[5] Id.

[6] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Seven to Serve on the United States District Courts (July 30, 2015) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov).

[7] Philip Wegmann, After Facing Questions on Abortion, 2 Obama Judicial Nominations Fail to Advance, The Daily Signal, Jan. 29, 2016, http://dailysignal.com/2016/01/29/after-facing-questions-on-abortion-2-obama-judicial-nominees-fail-to-advance/.  

[8] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Ninth Wave of Judicial Nominees and Tenth Wave of United States Attorney Nominees (December 20, 2017) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[9] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Peter J. Phipps: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 24.

[10] Id. at 10.

[11] Id. at 11-12.

[12] Thompson v. HUD, No. 95-395 (D. Md.) (Garbis, J.) (Grimm, J.).

[13] See id.

[14] Witt v. United States Air Force, No. 06-5195 (W.D. Wash.) (Leighton, J.).

[15] American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California v. Hargan, No. 16-3539 (N.D. Cal.) (Beeler, M.J.).

[16] See NCAA v. Christie, Nos. 3:12-4947; 3:14-6450 (D.N.J.) (Shipp, J.); Nos. 13-1713,-1714,-1715 (3d Cir.); Nos. 14-4546,-4568,-4569 (3d Cir.) (subsequently en banc); Nos. 13-967; -979; -980, Nos. 16-476,-477 (U.S.).

[17] See id.

[18] Commonwealth v. Opperman, 780 A.2d 714 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2001).

Thirteen Federal Judges President Trump May Elevate to the Court of Appeals in His Second Term

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.

William Shaw Stickman IV – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Sen. Pat Toomey is adept at recommending young male lawyers with bright futures to serve on the Western District of Pennsylvania.  After Judge Peter Phipps and Nicholas Ranjan, he has now recommended William Shaw Stickman IV.  In Stickman’s case, assertive letters to the editor he authored in his youth may cause him difficulty in the confirmation process.

Background

William Shaw Stickman IV was born in Pittsburgh PA in 1979.[1]  Stickman graduated summa cum laude from Duquesne University in 2002 and from Duquesne University Law School in 2005.[2]  He spent a year at the Pittsburgh office of Reed Smith LLP and then clerked for Chief Justice Ralph Cappy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.  He then joined the Pittsburgh Office of Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd LLC as an Associate.[3]  He became a Partner in 2013 and continues to serve in that capacity.[4]

History of the Seat

The seat Stickman has been nominated for opened on December 6, 2018, with Judge Joy Flowers Conti’s move to senior status.  

Stickman applied to the bipartisan judicial selection committee set up by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey in March 2017.[5]  Stickman interviewed with Toomey and Casey shortly after but did not start the process with the White House until February 2019.  He was formally nominated on May 13, 2019.

Legal Experience

Stickman has spent entire legal career post clerkship at the Pittsburgh office of Del Sole Cavanaugh Stroyd LLC, handling a litigation practice on both civil and personal injury cases.  Overall, Stickman has litigated six jury trials to verdict.[6]  Notably, Stickman (with Third Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas as his co-counsel) represented the mother of Ryan Maseth, a Pittsburgh-native soldier who was electrocuted in an Iraqi military base.[7]  Stickman’s case against the military contractor responsible for the barracks was dismissed by Judge Nora Barry Fischer,[8] but was reinstated by the Third Circuit.[9]  The case was ultimately settled.

In another matter, Stickman served as Counsel for the Pennsylvania Reapportionment Commission in defending redistricting plans developed after the 2010 census.[10] 

Political Activity

Stickman is a Republican and has served on the Alleghany County Republican Committee from 2014 to 2019.[11]  He also ran for the Alleghany County Council as a college student in 2001, losing the election to Democratic incumbent Wayne Fontana.[12]  During the election, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette endorsed Fontana, describing Stickman as “earnest and diligent” but noting his youth and that he “lacks an adequate grasp of specific issues facing the county.”[13]

Writings

In the early 2000s, Stickman authored a number of Letters to the Editor for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  Three of these letters are particularly notable for revealing Stickman’s views on key social issues.

Abortion

During the 2004 election, Stickman wrote a response to another letter comparing the number of abortions in the U.S. to the number of deaths in Iraq.  In the letter, Stickman describes the abortion industry as “grotesque,” stating that “since Roe vs. Wade more than 39 million babies have been killed by abortion.”[14]  Stickman also criticizes the comparison between abortion and the Iraq war, stating:

“To argue that there is moral equivalence between the accidental deaths of Iraqi civilians while liberating them from a murderous tyrant and the intentional deaths of many millions of babies is specious at best.”[15]

Gay Rights

In 2003, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down anti-sodomy laws in its Lawrence v. Texas decision, Stickman wrote a letter defending the disapproval and anti-LGBT views of Sen. Rick Santorum.[16]  In the letter, Stickman describes gay rights groups criticizing Santorum as “leftist sharks” and states:

“Even if the senator did equate homosexual intercourse with adultery, bigamy and incest, isn’t that his prerogative?  Are we and the leaders we elect no longer allowed to disagree with the activities of certain groups?”[17] 

Anti-Catholic Bias

In a 2002 letter, Stickman criticized the Post-Gazette’s coverage of sexual abuse cases involving Catholic priests.[18]  Stickman suggested that the coverage sensationalized the scandal and was motivated by anti-Catholic prejudice, comparing it to the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses to intimidate his Catholic grandmother.[19]  Stickman also alludes to the campaign against anti-Muslim bigotry after the September 11 attacks, asking: “is anti-Catholicism the last acceptable prejudice in our society?”[20]  Stickman notes that only 1.8 percent of Catholic priests have been implicated in scandal, noting:

“…the PG [Post-Gazette] should apologize to the 98.2 percent of priests who have suffered due to one-sided coverage.”[21]

Overall Assessment

The 40-year-old Stickman is young, conservative, and seems to have the support of his home state senators (even Democratic Sen. Bob Casey).  Furthermore, his career as a lawyer has not attracted much controversy, and he has accrued the requisite level of experience for a federal trial judge.  As such, his confirmation seems fairly assured.  

However, senators are likely to raise concerns about Stickman’s letters to the editor, suggesting that such letters do not reflect an appropriate judicial temperament.  Furthermore, Stickman’s beliefs, as divined from those letters, can be read to suggest that abortion is equivalent to murder, that homosexuality is equivalent to incest, that criticism of the Catholic church for its role in covering up child abuse is motivated solely by anti-Catholic animus, and that criticism of homophobia is an attempt to suppress speech.  While a nominee’s personal views shouldn’t necessarily dictate their judicial decisions, the boundary is nonetheless appropriate for senators to explore.

Of course, as with any nominee whose previous writings come under scrutiny, the key question is whether the nominee maintains the same views today or if his views have evolved with time.  That will be the question that must be explored regarding Stickman.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., William S. Stickman IV: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 31-32.

[6] Id. at 15.

[7] See Joe Mandak, Judge: No Iraqi Law in Pa. Soldier’s Shower Death, Associated Press, Oct. 3, 2011.

[8] Joe Mandak, Judge Nixes Pa. Soldier’s Iraq Electrocution Suit, Associated Press, July 16, 2012.

[9] Joe Mandak, Suit Over Pa. Soldier’s Death  in Iraq is Revived, Associated Press, Aug. 1, 2013.

[10] See Angela Couloumbis, Pa. Justices Hear Arguments Over New Legislative Plans, Philadelphia Inquirer, Sept. 13, 2012.

[11] See Stickman, supra n. 1 at 13-14.

[12] Id. at 13.

[13] Editorial, Fontana for District 12; More a Worker than a Reformer on County Council, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 26, 2001.

[14] See William S. Stickman IV, Accidental Deaths Vs. Intentional Deaths: No Comparison, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Oct. 29, 2004.

[15] Id.

[16] William S. Stickman IV, Free to Disagree, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Apr. 30, 2003.

[17] See id. 

[18] William Stickman, An Acceptable Prejudice?, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mar. 29, 2002.

[19] See id.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

Christy Wiegand – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Nineteen years ago, Christy Wiegand, then a young attorney at Arnold & Porter, was attacked while jogging in Rock Creek Park.  Wiegand fought back against her attacker, escaped, and later identified him to the police.  She went on to a distinguished career as a federal prosecutor, and now is primed for a seat on the federal bench.

Background

Christy Wiegand attended Princeton University, where she was a varsity rower, and went onto Cornell Law School, receiving her J.D. in 2000.[1]  After law school, Wiegand moved to Washington D.C. to join Arnold & Porter in their antitrust practice.  

However, in her first year in D.C., while jogging with her then-fiance in Rock Creek Park, Wiegand was attacked by a knife-wielding man.[2]  She managed to fight back and escaped to contact the police, who arrested her attacker, 19-year-old Ingmar Guandique.[3]  Guandique was later implicated in the murder of Chandra Levy, a Congressional intern whose disappearance had drawn suspicions on her boss, Congressman Gary Condit.[4]  Wiegand would also testify against Guandique who was ultimately convicted.[5]

In 2003, Wiegand left Arnold & Porter to clerk for Judge D. Brooks Smith on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Since her clerkship, Wiegand has served as a federal prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

History of the Seat

The seat Wiegand has been nominated for opened on July 22, 2019, when Judge Peter Phipps, himself a Trump appointee, was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.  Wiegand was nominated on February 12, 2020.

Legal Experience

Wiegand has practiced law as an Associate at Arnold & Porter and as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania.  In the former position, Wiegand focused on antitrust law.[6] In the latter position, Wiegand has handled both civil and criminal matters, including serving as the Deputy Civil Chief.[7] 

Among the most notable cases Wiegand handled, she was part of a legal team suing Education Management Corp. (EDMC), a for-profit education conglomerate that was charged with violating federal laws.[8]  Wiegand also led prosecutions against the Darccide/Smash 44 Gang for narcotics, firearms, and organized crime violations.[9]

Political Activity

Wiegand has only one political contribution of record, a 2016 contribution of $1000 to Sen. Patrick Toomey (R-PA).[10] 

Overall Assessment

Having powered through far more significant obstacles and barriers, Wiegand should be able to navigate the Senate confirmation process relatively comfortably.  Given her relatively uncontroversial record and her support from both Toomey and Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), Wiegand can expect a bipartisan confirmation.


[1] See Sari Horwitz, Scott Higham, and Sylvia Moreno, Chapter Six: The Predator in the Park, Wash. Post, July 17, 2008.

[2] See id.

[3] Id.

[4] Matthew Barakat, Chandra Levy’s Father Testifies About Efforts to Find Daughter, Other Testimony, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 26, 2010.

[5] See Matthew Barakat, Woman Testifies About Attack at Chandra Levy Trial, San Jose Mercury News, Oct. 26, 2010.  See also Michael Doyle, Jury Finds Guandique Guilty of Killing Chandra Levy, Canwest News Service, Nov. 22, 2010.

[6] See Press Release, Office of Sen. Patrick Toomey, Toomey, Casey Applaud Nomination of Christy Wiegand to U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania, Feb. 5, 2020 (available at https://www.toomey.senate.gov/?p=op_ed&id=2567).  

[7] See id.

[8] See Press Release, Office of the Attorney General, For-Profit College Company to Pay $95.5 Million to Settle Claims of Illegal Recruiting, Consumer Fraud, and Other Violations, Nov. 16, 2015.

[9] See Press Release, U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Pennsylvania, First of 37 Defendants Charged in Darccide/Smash 44 Gang Investigation Pleads Guilty to Drug Charge, Dec. 6, 2019.