David Woll – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

David C. Woll has already had his nomination to a senate confirmed position fail before the Republican Senate.  Now, Woll faces a tricky path to confirmation through Democratic Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

Background

David Carey Woll Jr. received a B.A. from the University of Maryland and a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law.[1]  Woll then joined the Securities & Exchange Commission as a Senior Counsel before becoming an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.[2]

Woll then became a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, focusing on financial and white collar crimes.[3]  In 2013, Woll was selected by Governor Chris Christie to handle disaster relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.[4] 

Since 2018, Woll has served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  On August 1, 2019, Woll was nominated by President Trump to be Assistant Secretary for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  While his nomination was approved on a 16-9 vote by the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Development Committee, his nomination never received a vote on the Senate floor and was withdrawn by the Administration on March 18, 2020.

History of the Seat

Woll has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  While the seat to which he will be nominated has not been specified, it will either be the vacancy that opened with Judge Dora Irizarry’s move to senior status on January 26, 2020 or the seat vacated by Judge Brian Cogan on June 12, 2020.

Legal Experience

Woll started his legal career at the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he worked as Senior Counsel.[5]  There, he handled a case against a securities boiler room that was targeting elderly investors.[6]  Then, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, Woll prosecuted violent and sex crimes.[7] 

In 2007, Woll was one of the attorneys hired by DOJ attorney Monica Goodling as part of an improper politicized hiring process she conducted.[8]  Woll was asked during his interview whether he had ever “cheated on his wife.”[9]  Woll would become a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn, handling white collar and financial prosecutions.

Since 2018, Woll has served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Community Planning and Development at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  However, Woll’s tenure at HUD was criticized by Sen. Sherrod Brown for not being responsive to Congress and for failing to provide timely aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria.[10]  Brown also criticized Woll’s office for releasing a proposed rule that would weaken anti-discrimination provisions in housing for LGBTQ individuals.[11]  Woll’s reluctance to release funds to Puerto Rico was also criticized by members of the House of Representatives.[12]  In testimony before the House, Woll admitted that he had failed to comply with a Congressional deadline for releasing hurricane relief.[13]

Political Activity

Woll is a Republican, and all his political contributions of record have been to Republicans, including a contribution to President Trump’s re-election in 2020 and to John McCain in 2008.[14] 

Overall Assessment

The odds are stacked against Woll’s confirmation to the district court.  First, there are only four months left for Senate action on the nomination.  Second, the controversies regarding Woll’s views on LGBT protections in federal housing, and regarding his failure to comply with congressional deadlines on Puerto Rico relief make him a very controversial nominee.  As Woll has been nominated to the district court, his nomination can be blocked through blue slips, and it’s unlikely that New York’s senators will return their blue slips on the nomination.


[1] See Opening Statement of David C. Woll, Nominations Hearing, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Development, available at https://www.banking.senate.gov/hearings/11/07/2019/nomination-hearing (last visited Aug. 21, 2020).

[2] See id. 

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] See id.

[6] See Woll, supra n. 2 at 16.

[7] EEOC v. Local 638, 117 F. Supp. 2d 386 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).

[8] See Eric Lipton, Colleagues Cite Partisan Focus By Justice Official, N.Y. Times, May 12, 2007.

[9] See Greg B. Smith, Mob Dials for Dough Say Millions Swindled Using Tiny Midwest Firm, N.Y. Daily News, Sept. 19, 2004.  

[10] See Statement of Sen. Sherrod Brown, Markup, Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Development, Dec. 10, 2019, available at https://www.banking.senate.gov/hearings/executive-session-to-consider-nominations (last visited Aug. 21, 2020).

[11] Id.

[12] See Report: Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Failing As Relief Stalls, Congressional Quarterly News, Nov. 12, 2019.

[13] Nicole Acevedo, HUD Officials Knowingly Failed ‘To Comply With The Law’ Stalled Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief, NBC News, Oct. 18, 2019, https://www.nbcnews.com/news/latino/hud-officials-knowingly-failed-comply-law-stalled-puerto-rico-hurricane-n1068761.

[14] See Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=david+woll (last visited Aug. 21, 2020).

Twelve State Court Judges President Trump May Elevate to the Court of Appeals in His Second Term

For the last few weeks, we have been looking at potential nominees for the Court of Appeals in the next four years.  Previously, we looked at federal district court judges.  This time, we’ll look to another potential source of federal judges, the state courts.  As always, we’ll look at one prospective nominee for each geographically based court of appeal.

D.C. Circuit – Justice Sarah Hawkins Warren

There’s nothing requiring a nominee to the D.C. Circuit to come from D.C.  After all, President George W. Bush picked California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown for a seat on the D.C. Circuit.  With the D.C. Court of Appeals lacking any viable conservatives to elevate, it wouldn’t be surprising to see President Trump look to other courts for conservatives to mine.  And Warren, who currently serves on the Georgia Supreme Court, is an appealing pick.  Not only is she young, at only 39, but Warren has close connections to D.C., having clerked for Judge Richard Leon on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and having been a Partner at the Washington D.C. office of Kirkland & Ellis.

First Circuit – Justice Patrick Donovan

The First Circuit is the only one of the twelve geographic circuits that Trump has yet to name a nominee to.  The sole New Hampshire member of the court, Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard, becomes eligible for senior status this year and may well take it in the next four years.  If he does, Justice Patrick Donovan of the New Hampshire Supreme Court is likely to be strongly considered.  Donovan has strong credentials, including working for the New Hampshire House of Representatives, and will have a champion in Governor Chris Sununu.  Furthermore, the Justice, while conservative, is unlikely to attract strong opposition from the state’s Democratic senators.

Second Circuit – Justice Karen Carroll

How many judicial conservatives are there in Vermont?  The White House will have to consider this if Judge Peter Hall takes senior status in a second Trump term.  Among its candidates, the White House will have to seriously consider Vermont Supreme Court Justice Karen Carroll.  The 56-year-old jurist was Republican Governor Phil Scott’s first appointment to the court and would be the first woman from Vermont on the Second Circuit.

Third Circuit – Judge P. Kevin Brobson

The 49-year-old Brobson, who currently serves on the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, made the news in 2017 for declining to strike down Pennsylvania’s congressional maps as being gerrymandered.  Brobson’s ruling (which was later overturned), alongside the fact that he has spoken at Federalist Society events, and his strong reputation in the Pennsylvania Bar, may make him an attractive conservative choice for a Pennsylvania seat on the Third Circuit.

Fourth Circuit – Judge Richard Dietz

The 43 year old Dietz has the trifecta of strong conservative bona fides, good Republican connections, and excellent academic credentials (having been first in his class at Wake Forest Law).  Dietz, who serves on the North Carolina Court of Appeals, will be strongly considered by the Trump Administration if Judge James Wynn moves to senior status in 2022.

Fifth Circuit – Justice Jimmy Blacklock

There are many conservatives who would be salivating for a seat on the Fifth Circuit under a second Trump term.  A strong contender would be Texas Supreme Court Justice Jimmy Blacklock.  The strongly conservative jurist started his career at the Department of Justice and has close connections to Gov. Greg Abbott, a strong Trump surrogate and supporter (Blacklock was the longtime General Counsel for Abbott).  It doesn’t hurt that, at forty, Blacklock could spend decades on the bench.

Sixth Circuit – Justice Elizabeth Clement

The 43 year old Clement had a long history with the Michigan Republican Party when she was appointed to the Michigan Supreme Court to replace Judge Joan Larsen in 2017.  Nonetheless, she soon attracted fire from conservatives for voting to permit an Independent Redistricting referendum to go on the Michigan ballot.  Despite being booed at the state convention, Clement retained the nomination of the Michigan Republican Party and was comfortably re-elected in 2018, the only Republican to win statewide in Michigan that year.  Despite the hand-wringing over that decision, Clement’s record on the Court is generally conservative, while Michigan’s Democratic Senators may sign off on her elevation to allow Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to replace her.

Seventh Circuit – Justice Brian Hagedorn

If Judge Diane Sykes took senior status in 2022 under a Trump Administration, Hagedorn would be the favorite to fill the vacancy.  The 42-year-old jurist has a strongly conservative background, while also establishing a reputation as a principled jurist on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, occasionally dissenting from the more aggressive views of his colleagues.  Hagedorn’s quieter form of conservatism is also less likely to draw opposition than the more vocal views of his colleague, Justice Rebecca Bradley, who may be a rival for the appointment.

Eighth Circuit – Justice Jonathan Papik

In 2017, Papik narrowly missed out on an appointment to the Eighth Circuit when the White House chose Leonard Grasz instead of him.  Nonetheless, Papik found himself appointed to the Nebraska Supreme Court in 2018, despite being only 36 years old at the time.  Papik, who clerked for Justice Neil Gorsuch (on the Court of Appeals) will be closely considered for an Eighth Circuit vacancy, and, while Grasz is not expected to leave the court anytime soon, if he does under Trump, expect Papik to be the nominee.

Ninth Circuit – Judge Jerome Tao

Here’s where it gets interesting.  Judge Jerome Tao is, at least nominally, a Democrat who started his career working for former Senator Harry Reid.  Nonetheless, the judge was appointed to the Nevada Court of Appeals by Republican Governor Brian Sandoval, ran a fiercely conservative campaign for the Nevada Supreme Court in 2018 (unsuccessfully), and recently made the news for a concurring opinion decrying deference to administrative agencies.  The Trump Administration’s judge-pickers care deeply about administrative law, and, if Judge Johnnie Rawlinson takes senior status, expect Tao to be strongly considered.

Tenth Circuit – Justice Thomas Lee

Judge Scott Matheson will be eligible for senior status in 2022, and, if he chooses to take it under a Trump Administration, Justice Thomas Lee from the Utah Supreme Court will be a strong contender to replace him.  Lee is already on Trump’s radar, with a place on his Supreme Court shortlist, as well as being the brother of Sen. Mike Lee.  The only knock against Lee is his age (he will be 58 in 2022).  Nonetheless, he will likely have right of first refusal for the position, given his credentials (clerked for Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson and Justice Clarence Thomas) and his connections.

Eleventh Circuit – Justice Nels Petersen

Another former Georgia Solicitor General, like Warren and Eleventh Circuit Judge Britt Grant, Petersen would be a safe pick if Judge Beverly Martin’s seat opened in a second Trump term.  The 42 year old jurist has established a solidly conservative profile on the Georgia Supreme Court.

 

Benjamin Beaton – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

Ohio litigator Benjamin Beaton is a conservative who clerked for one of the Supreme Court’s more liberal jurists.  Now, Beaton has been nominated for a vacancy on the Western District of Kentucky.

Background

A native of Paducah in Western Kentucky, Benjamin Beaton was born in 1981.  He received his B.A. summa cum laude from Centre College in 2003 and his J.D. cum laude from Columbia University Law School in 2009, working for Rep. Edward Whitfield in between.[1]  After law school, Beaton clerked for Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the U.S. Supreme Court.[2]  Beaton also spent several months in Uganda as a legal fellow with the International Justice Mission.

After his clerkship, Beaton joined Sidley Austin in Washington D.C.  He is currently a Partner in the Cincinnati office of Squire Patton Boggs.

History of the Seat

Walker has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.  This seat will open in September when Judge Justin Walker, another McConnell protege, will move to the D.C. Circuit.

Legal Experience

Beaton has practiced civil and criminal litigation at the firms of Sidley Austin and Squire Patton Boggs.  While at Sidley Austin, Beaton was one of the lead attorneys in a suit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.[3]  The rule regulates the emissions of certain gases between “upwind” and “downwind” states.  After a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit blocked the rule, the Supreme Court reversed and remanded.[4]  On remand, in an opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, the D.C. Circuit blocked the rule.[5]

Among other significant matters he has handled, Beaton represented a hospital in procedures before the Kentucky Supreme Court challenging a discovery order that required turning over patient safety work product from the hospital’s records.[6]  Beaton persuaded the Kentucky Supreme Court to overturn a prior plurality opinion and hold that the information at issue in the case was privileged and protected.[7]

Writings

Throughout his career, Beaton has frequently spoken and written on the law.  For example, in one speech at Western Kentucky University, Beaton described his experience with the “professionalism” of the Supreme Court, noting examples of collegiality and problems on the Supreme Court.[8]  Beaton also runs the Sixth Circuit Appellate Blog.  Among his dossier of writings, two papers are of particular significance.

Walking the Federalist Tightrope

While a law student at Columbia, Beaton authored an article discussing a potential framework for intrastate development and use of health information technology (“HIT”), and the development of a model of interstate cooperation to improve healthcare outcomes consistent with the federalist structure of government.[9]  In the paper, Beaton notes that the federal government has largely failed in developing regulation to provide a clear framework for development of HIT and that states have been forced to act to fill this vacuum.[10]  Beaton argues for a federally established and managed “forum for interstate collaboration,” which mandates information sharing and that states would be required to participate in.[11] 

Pragmatism of Interpretation

In 2018, Beaton reviewed Judge Richard Posner’s book Richard A. Posner, The Federal Judiciary, alongside Judge Amul Thapar of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[12]  The review challenges the central thesis of Posner’s book, that judges use overly formal legal principles in order to disguise result-oriented decisionmaking in the veil of objectivism, and that judges should avoid this by adopting “judicial pragmatism” making decisions with a practical eye towards “socially beneficial effects.”[13]  Beaton and Thapar argue that Posner’s solution would create more result-oriented decisionmaking, not less, and that the real solution to overly formal decisionmaking is to focus on text and precedent.[14] 

Overall Assessment

While still under the age of forty, Beaton has significant litigation experience, a prestigious Supreme Court clerkship, solidly conservative credentials (including membership in the Federalist Society), and a paper trail reflecting a penchant for textualist and originalist judging.  All of this adds up to a conservative but confirmable nominee.

Senators may raise concerns that Beaton lacks the twelve years of practice experience the ABA seeks as a base level of qualifications, but proponents will note his Supreme Court clerkship.  Other Senators may oppose Beaton based on his litigation against EPA anti-pollution rules.  However, these concerns should not affect his confirmation.  Given that he hails from the state of Kentucky, expect the Majority Leader to pull out the stops to get Beaton on the bench before the end of the year.


[1] See Leanne Fuller, Trump Nominates Paducah Native for Federal Judgeship, WPSD Local 6, Aug. 12, 2020, https://www.wpsdlocal6.com/news/trump-nominates-paducah-native-for-federal-judgeship/article_71a5cb46-dcf4-11ea-9bb0-2f9a3c5e1b68.html.

[2] Id.

[3] See EME Homer City Generation LP v. EPA, 795 F.3d 118 (D.C. Cir. 2015).

[4] See EME Homer, 134 S.Ct. 1584 (2014).

[5] See EME Homer, supra n. 3 at 124.

[6] Baptist Health Richmond, Inc. v. Clouse, 497 S.W.3d 759 (Ky. 2016).

[7] See id. at 766.

[8] Jack Dobbs, Beaton Discusses Civility, Professionalism in the Supreme Court, College Heights Herald: Western Kentucky University, Nov. 15, 2018.

[9] Benjamin J. Beaton, Walking the Federalist Tightrope: A National Policy of State Experimentation For Health Information Technology, 108 Colum. L. Rev. 1670 (Nov. 2008).

[10] See id. at 1687-88.

[11] See id. at 1699.

[12] See Amul R. Thapar and Benjamin J. Beaton, The Pragmatism of Interpretation: A Review of Richard A. Posner, The Federal Judiciary, 116 Mich. L. Rev. 819 (April 2018).

[13] See id. at 823.

[14] See id. at 827-28.

Ryan McAllister – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

With the 116th Congress ticking down, the Trump Administration is running out of time to fill vacancies before the 2020 presidential election.  After previous nominee Thomas Marcelle was blocked for a New York vacancy, Trump has put forward Stephen McAllister, an Albany based attorney.

Background

43 year old Ryan Thomas McAllister got his Bachelor of Arts from the Catholic University of America in 1999 and went on to earn his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2002.[1]  After law school, McAllister clerked for Judge Richard Wesley on the New York Court of Appeals and then on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit after Wesley was confirmed to the federal bench.  McAllister then joined the Office of Gov. George Pataki as Assistant Counsel.[2]

After Pataki left office in 2006, McAllister joined the Albany office of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP as an Associate.[3]  In 2011, McAllister became Senior Counsel for the Senate majority of the New York State Senate while working as a solo practitioner in Albany.

In 2016, McAllister moved to Washington D.C. to work for U.S. Rep. John Faso.[4]  After Faso lost re-election in 2018, McAllister returned to Albany to become a Partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, where he currently works.

History of the Seat

McAllister has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.  This seat opened on January 1, 2016, when Judge Gary Sharpe moved to senior status.  While the seat opened with a year left in the Obama Administration, the Administration never extended a nominee for the vacancy and it was carried over into the Trump Administration.

In October 2018, upon the recommendation of two Republican Congressmen in New York, Lee Zeldin and John Faso, the White House nominated New York Judge Thomas Marcelle for the vacancy.  Marcelle had also been nominated for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush but was blocked by Senator Charles Schumer.[5]  This time around, Marcelle was blocked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand over his record on abortion, and Marcelle withdrew his nomination in August 2019.[6]  On August 12, 2020, McAllister was nominated in a second attempt to fill this seat.

Legal Experience

McAllister’s legal career can be divided into his time in politics and his time in litigation.  In the former category, we can find McAllister’s role working for Gov. George Pataki, the New York State Senate, and Rep. John Faso.  In the latter, you have McAllister’s time at Boies Schiller and as a solo practitioner.  In these positions, McAllister largely focused on commercial litigation, as well as some criminal defense.

One of McAllister’s most notable cases was his role representing B.J.’s Wholesalers as a plaintiff in an action challenging anticompetitive activities conducted by industrial producers of chicken meat.[7]  

Political Activity

McAllister, a Republican, has worked closely in politics for much of his career, including working for Gov. George Pataki and Rep. John Faso.  McAllister also worked as a staffer for the Republican majority in the New York State Senate between 2011 and 2016.  Furthermore, in 2016, McAllister considered running for Congress but instead chose to support Faso.[8]

Additionally, McAllister has frequently donated to Republicans.[9]  In addition to Faso, McAllister has supported the Presidential campaigns of NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Sen. Marco Rubio.[10] 

Overall Assessment

In theory, McAllister would not have been nominated to a district court seat without at least a preliminary sign-off from his home state senators.  That suggests at least some acquiescence by Senators Schumer and Gillibrand.  However, as the nomination of his predecessor showed, there’s many a slip between nomination and confirmation.  Given the close distance to the election, it is unlikely that New York’s senators will return blue slips on the nomination.  If they do, however, McAllister will likely be confirmed by the end of the year.


[1] Ryan McAllister, Linkedin.com, available at https://www.linkedin.com/in/ryan-mcallister-324871108/ (last visited Aug. 17, 2020).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Robert Gavin, Marcelle Seen in Line for Federal Judgeship, Houston Chronicle, May 4, 2018, https://www.chron.com/local/article/Marcelle-seen-in-line-for-federal-judgeship-12889507.php.

[6] Robert Gavin and Mike Goodwin, Gillibrand Blocks Area Judge’s Nomination, Albany Times Union, Aug. 30, 2019, https://www.pressreader.com/usa/albany-times-union/20190830/281535112661040.

[7] In re Broiler Chicken Antitrust Litig., 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36202, No. 16 C 8637 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 3, 2020) (Durkin, J.).

[8] See Joe Mahoney, Magee to Run Again; Delaware GOP Boss Eyes Tenney’s Seat, The Daily Star, Jan. 23, 2016.

[9] Federal Election Commission, Individual Contribution Lookup, https://www.fec.gov/data/receipts/individual-contributions/?contributor_name=Ryan+McAllister&contributor_state=NY (last visited Aug. 18, 2020).

[10] See id.

End of an Era – Why It is Time to End the ABA’s Privileged Role in Judicial Nominations

In 1953, when President Dwight Eisenhower requested that the American Bar Association, the leading nonpartisan legal organization in the country, start vetting prospective judicial nominees before they were sent to the Senate, it was seen as a guarantee for an impartial and nonpartisan judiciary.  This tradition was followed for five decades by presidents of both political parties until President George W. Bush ended it in 2001. President Obama revived pre-nomination ABA vetting in 2009 and President Trump again ended it in 2017.  Regardless of whether President Trump is re-elected or if a President Biden is elected in 2020, there will be significant pressure on the President to revive this tradition.  For the sake of the judiciary and the country, he should refuse.

History of ABA and Judicial Nominations

As noted earlier, the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary has been vetting judicial nominations since the invitation of President Eisenhower in 1953.  For most of this history, this process has been pre-nomination.  In other words, the prospective nominee is handed over to the ABA for interviews, vetting, and a final rating.  The ABA would then provide their rating to the White House, at which point a final decision would be made on whether to move forward on the nomination.

In 2001, President George W. Bush changed this tradition.  Instead of providing names before the nomination was official, Bush announced that the ABA would receive the names only after the nomination was public.  Bush’s decision was the culmination of decades of conservative grumbling about the ABA, manifested from the ABA’s decision to give low ratings to President Reagan’s nominations of Professors Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook to the federal bench, and to rate Judge Robert Bork’s nomination for the Supreme Court as “qualified” rather than “well qualified.”  Nonetheless, even after the decision, the ABA continued rating judicial nominees and Senators generally refrained from action on a nomination until the ABA rating came in.

In 2009, President Obama restored the ABA’s pre-nomination vetting role.  However, this decision wasn’t without backlash of its own.  Liberals soon began to grumble that the ABA vetting process took too long and unduly slowed the nominations process.  More significantly, the rejection rate of President Obama’s nominees increased dramatically by the ABA, preventing the Administration from effectively filling vacancies.  Despite this tension, Obama did not reduce the ABA’s role.

In 2017, Trump again ended the ABA’s role in vetting nominees pre-nomination, and a number of nominees ratedNot Qualified” have been confirmed under Trump (although others have been rejected).

One consistent thread throughout the process has been the criticism of the ABA’s process for bias against conservatives.  However, looking at all the evidence, the bigger problem with the ABA’s ratings is not bias, but arbitrariness.

The “Arbitrariness” of ABA Evaluations

For any “objective” rating system to have credibility, it needs to be clear, understandable, and consistently applied.  The ABA’s rating system purports to be as such, but falls short of that standard.  The ABA claims to evaluate a nominee’s “professional competence, integrity, and judicial temperament” without taking into regard the nominee’s ideology.  However, in practice, questions of ideology frequently commingle into questions of temperament.  As a result, you have nominees like Leonard Grasz, who was poorly rated for a “lack of open-mindedness and freedom from bias.”  How does an evaluation into a nominee’s “bias” steer clear of an evaluation of their ideology?  The ABA doesn’t clarify.

More worryingly, even the “objective” portions of their criteria are often arbitrarily applied.  For example, the ABA purports to seek 12 years of legal work experience as a minimum guideline for judicial nominees.  However, this guideline is rarely straightforwardly applied.  Missouri judicial nominee Sarah Pitlyk received a “Not Qualified” rating based on a lack of requisite trial or litigation experience (Pitlyk was out of law school for 11 years at that point), but Alabama nominee Edmund LaCour received a “Qualified” rating despite only having around eight years of legal experience.  The ABA argued that Pitlyk had not tried any cases in court, but neither had Ninth Circuit nominee Daniel Bress, who nonetheless received a mixed “Qualified/Well Qualified” rating.  At a time when so few cases proceed to trial, how can trial experience be the primary indicator of judicial competency?

Again, how does one explain that Holly Lou Teeter, who fell a month short of the 12 year guideline, received a “Not Qualified” rating based on her lack of experience, while Taylor McNeel, who had the same level of experience when nominated, received a “Qualified” rating?  Similarly, how does nominee Justin Walker, who was rated “Not Qualified” for a federal trial court seat suddenly get rated “Well Qualified” for an appellate seat, with the only difference being three months on a trial court?

Overall, a consistent thread looking at ABA ratings is that they vary significantly based on the circuit and the evaluator.  One nominee with ten years of legal experience may receive a “Well Qualified” rating, while another may only be rated “Qualified.”  The difference is never explained as the ABA only needs to explain its “Not Qualified” ratings.

The ABA and Female/Minority Judges

While the ABA has largely been criticized from the right, it is the left that arguably has more to lose from its evaluation process.  During the Obama Administration, the ABA’s rejection of the President’s nominees increased 3.5 times from the previous Bush Presidency, with many of the nominees being rejected being women or minorities.  For example, Nevada judicial nominee Gloria Navarro had been nominated after a mixed “Qualified/Not Qualified” rating based on her lack of prior judicial experience.  However, a few years earlier, fellow Nevada nominee Brian Sandoval, who also had no judicial experience, received a “Well Qualified/Qualified” rating.

The ABA’s poor ratings of women and minorities goes back decades, with the ABA kneecapping many female and minority nominees during the Carter Administration.  For example, the ABA strongly opposed Carter’s efforts to name Prof. Joan Krauskopf to the Eighth Circuit, arguing that she lacked judicial experience and was “too liberal.”  President Carter ended up filling the seat with a male judge who was younger than Prof. Krauskopf.  No women would be confirmed to the Eighth Circuit until sixteen years later when Judge Diana Murphy was appointed by President Clinton.

Similarly, the ABA strongly opposed President Richard Nixon when he proposed nominating California judge Mildred Lillie to the Supreme Court.  The Committee voted 11-1 to find Lillie, who had been an appellate judge for 14 years, “Unqualified” for a Supreme Court seat.  In contrast, Nixon’s replacement for Lillie, William Rehnquist, received the ABA’s highest rating despite never having served as a judge at all.

It’s Time to Move On

Given these controversies, it is obvious why the value of an ABA rating has deteriorated.  Where senators agree with the nominee’s philosophy, they tout the rating when it’s good and attack the ABA when it’s not.  When they don’t, the ABA suddenly becomes the “gold standard” for nominees.  There are other issues with ABA ratings that this post doesn’t even touch on, such as allegations that they fail to follow their own processes when evaluating certain nominees.

As a bottom line, there is no doubt that the ABA performs a valuable service in its evaluation of judicial nominations.  However, given the arbitrariness of its ratings, valid allegations that it discriminates against women, minorities, and non-litigators, and serious cracks in its credibility on the Hill, there is no longer much benefit to giving the ABA such a privileged position in the nomination process.  The ABA should instead be encouraged to contribute its evaluations as part of the judicial confirmation process, as dozens of other legal organizations do.  It is time to move on.

Edmund LaCour – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama

In 2019, when Alabama Solicitor General Andrew Brasher was confirmed to be a federal district court judge, a 34-year-old attorney named Edmund LaCour was tapped to replace him as Solicitor General.  Now, as Brasher has been confirmed to an appellate court, LaCour has been tapped again, this time to fill Brasher’s seat on the U.S. District Court.

Background

Edmund Gerald LaCour Jr. was born in 1985.  LaCour graduated summa cum laude from Birmingham-Southern College, received a Master of Arts from Trinity College Dublin and then a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Upon graduation, LaCour clerked for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  He then joined the Houston office of Baker Botts as an Associate.  In 2015, LaCour shifted to Bancroft PLLC, a boutique litigation firm dominated by conservatives, in Washington D.C. before moving, along with the bulk of the firm, to Kirkland & Ellis in 2016.

In 2019, LaCour was appointed by Steve Marshall, the Attorney General of Alabama, to be Solicitor General, replacing Andrew Brasher, who was confirmed to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.  LaCour currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

LaCour has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama.  This seat opened when Judge Andrew Brasher, who has already been confirmed by the Senate, took his seat on the Eleventh Circuit on June 30, 2020.  

Legal Experience

While LaCour started his career at Baker Botts working on relatively straightforward criminal and civil matters,[1] he has spent the latter part of his career working on litigation on conservative causes.  For example, at the boutique firm Bancroft PLLC, LaCour represented a Christian organization at NC State in seeking to enjoin a University requirement that they obtain a permit before soliciting students.[2][3]  Judge James Dever ended up enjoining the policy,[4] which prompted NC State to rewrite it.[5]  LaCour also represented Republican organizations seeking to set aside anti pay-to-play rules made by the Securities and Exchange Commission,[6] and sued to strike down registration fees on firearms in California.[7]  On a less controversial front, while at Kirkland, LaCour represented business owner in a landmark litigation seeking to narrowly interpret bankruptcy rulings made by the Supreme Court.[8] 

Since 2019, LaCour has served as Solicitor General of Alabama, in which capacity he has defended Alabama laws and convictions before state and federal courts.  While, at the time of his appointment, LaCour attracted some criticism for alleged ties to Russia,[9] such criticism has not resurfaced.

Among his defenses of Alabama laws, LaCour defended the state ethics laws against challenges that it was too vague,[10] and defended the state’s minimum wage law from a racial discrimination challenge.[11] 

On the flip side, LaCour has also used the Solicitor General’s office offensively, challenging laws and federal regulations.  For example, LaCour led a 21-state brief before the U.S. Supreme Court challenging Maryland gun regulations.[12]  He also led an amicus effort to support Texas’ efforts to limit reproductive health procedures during the Covid-19 pandemic.[13]

Political Activity

LaCour has frequently given to Republican committees and candidates.[14]  Among the recipients of his largesse are Sens. Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both of whom serve on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, who unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2018.[15]

Overall Assessment

While LaCour is only 35 years old, he has racked up many accomplishments in his short career, including a significant amount of litigation experience.  However, much of his litigation has been in service of conservative causes, which will likely make him very controversial as a nominee.  As such, the key barrier for LaCour will be obtaining a blue slip from Democratic Senator Doug Jones.  If LaCour can do so, his nomination will likely be processed this year.  If not, LaCour will have to hope for a Trump re-election.


[1] See, e.g., Rogers v. United States, 561 F. App’x 440 (6th Cir. Mar. 31, 2014).

[2] See Press Release, Alliance Defending Freedom, Student Group Sues NC State for Requiring Permits for Any, All Speech, Apr. 26, 2016.

[3] See also Emery Dalesio, Christian Groups Challenge NC University’s Speech Permits, A.P. State & Local, June 2, 2016.

[4] Grace Christian Life v. Woodson, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 73376, 5:16-CV-202-D (E.D.N.C. June 4, 2016) (Dever, J.).

[5] See Press Release, Alliance Defending Freedom, NC State Revises Speech Policy After Losing Court Battle With Student Group, July 19, 2016.

[6] See Jack Casey, Why Republican State Committees Say Revised Rule G-37 Is Unconstitutional, Bondbuyer.com, May 18, 2016.  See also Tenn. Republican Party v. SEC, 863 F.3d 507 (6th Cir. 2017).

[7] Bauer v. Becerra, 858 F.3d 1216 (9th Cir. 2017).

[8] See Stephanie Gleason, District Court Affirms Narrowness of Stern v. Marshall, The Deal Pipeline, Sept. 26, 2018.

[9] See, e.g., Legal Schnauzer, Edmund LaCour Jr., Alabama’s New Solicitor General, Has Worked For Two Law Firms With Ties to Russia And Has Represented Gazprom, a Major Russian Energy Firm, Legal Schnauzer, May 22, 2019.

[10] See Kim Chandler, Former Alabama Speaker Asks Court to Overturn Conviction, A.P. State & Local, June 5, 2019.

[11] Press Release, Office of Attorney General Steve Marshall, Alabama A.G. Marshall Announced 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Victory for State of Alabama in Minimum-Wage Lawsuit, Dec. 13, 2019.

[12] See Steve Lash, ‘Shall Issue’ States Back Supreme Court Challenge to Md. Handgun Law, The Daily Record, Dec. 4, 2019.

[13] Kevin Stawicki, Justices Urged to Wade into Texas’ COVID Abortion Ban Fight, Law360, Apr. 13, 2020, https://www.law360.com/articles/1262858/justices-urged-to-wade-into-texas-covid-abortion-ban-fight.

[15] See id.

Thompson Dietz – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims (CFC) is currently severely hampered by vacancies.  The CFC is intended to have sixteen judgeships but is down six vacancies with two more scheduled to open in the coming months.  There are multiple reasons behind the high number of vacancies, primary among which are the obstruction of nominees under President Obama.  Furthermore, the Trump Administration has been slow to nominate judges to the CFC, with three of the nominees withdrawing before confirmation.  The latest nominee is New Jersey lawyer Thompson Dietz.

Background

The 40-year-old Thompson Michael Dietz graduated from Clemson University in 2001 and received a J.D. from Tulane University Law School in 2005.[1] 

After graduating law school, Dietz worked as a Senior Contracts Representative at the aerospace and defense company General Dynamics.[2] In 2011, Dietz joined CohnReznick LLP as Associate Counsel, where he has worked ever since.  

History of the Seat

Dietz 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 Dietz was nominated for opened up on July 13, 2018, with the retirement of Judge Victor Wolski.

Legal Experience

Dietz’s specialty is government contracts law.  He started his career at the defense contracting company General Dynamics, where he worked on negotiating and managing government contracts.[3] 

Since 2011, Dietz has worked at CohnReznick LLP, an accounting, tax, and advisory firm, serving as lead counsel in the firm’s government and public sector group.[4]  Dietz also worked on data privacy issues with the law.[5]  Dietz’s career at the firm seems to have focused on regulatory and compliance issues, rather than litigation.

Overall Assessment

Dietz does not have a paper trail of controversial issues, and his government contracts practice is well within the wheelhouse of the Court of Federal Claims.  While he may face questions for having a career focusing on regulatory compliance rather than litigation, Dietz should be able to avoid major issues in confirmation.


[1] Charles Toutant, Trump Nominates New Jersey In-House Lawyer at CohnReznick to Federal Claims Court, Law.com, June 15, 2020, https://www.law.com/njlawjournal/2020/06/15/trump-nominates-new-jersey-in-house-lawyer-at-cohnreznick-to-federal-claims-court/.

[2] Id.

[3] See id.

[4]  See id.

[5] Id.

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.

Taylor McNeel – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi

After Judge Cory Wilson’s district court nomination was upgraded to the Court of Appeals, Biloxi attorney Taylor McNeel has been nominated to fill a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Background

Taylor Brantley McNeel was born in or around 1983.  After getting a B.B.A. cum laude from the University of Mississippi, McNeel received his J.D. from the University of Mississippi Law School in 2008.  McNeel has spent his entire legal career at the firm of Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC in Biloxi Mississippi, where he currently serves as a Member.

History of the Seat

McNeel has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.  This seat opened on March 23, 2018, when Judge Louis Guirola took senior status.  The White House had previously nominated Mississippi Court of Appeals Judge Cory Wilson to this seat, but withdrew Wilson and nominated him for the Fifth Circuit, to which he was confirmed.  McNeel was then nominated on July 2, 2020.

Legal Experience

McNeel has spent his entire legal career at the firm of Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes, PLLC in Biloxi Mississippi, where he currently serves as a Member.  At the firm, McNeel has handled both bench and jury trials in federal and state court, as well as appeals in the Mississippi Supreme Court and the Mississippi Court of Appeals, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  For example, McNeel represented golf courses seeking to successfully dismiss an antitrust suit brought against them.  See Gulf Coast Hotel-Motel Ass’n v. Miss. Gulf Coast Golf Course Ass’n, 658 F. Supp. 3d 500 (S.D. Miss. 2011).  

On the state court side, McNeel convinced the Mississippi Court of Appeals to successfully dismiss charges against a casino he represented for allegedly giving food poisoning to patrons.  See McGinty v. Grand Casinos of Miss., Inc. – Biloxi, 245 So. 3d 555 (Miss. App. 2014). An appeal on the issue was later denied by the Supreme Court of Mississippi.  McGinty v. Grand Casinos of Miss., Inc. – Biloxi, 245 So. 3d 444 (Miss. 2018).

Overall Assessment

Despite McNeel’s youth, he has extensive litigation experience practicing before Mississippi’s state and federal courts.  While McNeel’s path to confirmation is complicated by the closing window of judicial confirmations, given the Republican majority, McNeel is favored for confirmation.  

 

Thirteen Federal Judges the Next Democratic President May Elevate to the Court of Appeals

With the COVID-19 pandemic on everyone’s minds, judicial nominations have largely been on the backburner for the last few months.  While a few more district nominees will likely be processed in the next few months, it’s safe to say that the victor of the 2020 election will nonetheless have many judicial vacancies to fill in the next four years.

Since speculation is what this blog enjoys most, let’s think about potential candidates for the federal appellate bench under a Democratic President.  We’ll start by looking at federal district court judges who are poised for elevation to the appellate bench, and, for the sake of geographic diversity, we’ll limit our pick to thirteen judges, one for each Court of Appeal.  As such, here are 13 district judges who would be strongly considered for elevation if a Democrat was elected in 2021.

Judge Ketanji Jackson (D.D.C.)

Here’s my first prediction: Jackson will be the first Democratic nominee to the D.C. Circuit in 2021, potentially replacing Judge Judith Ann Wilson Rogers, another black woman.  Jackson, a clerk of Justice Breyer, has impressed enough to seriously be considered for a Supreme Court appointment in 2016.  At 49, Jackson has another 10 years or so of viability for a Supreme Court appointment, and it would not be surprising to have her be the first black woman on the court.

Judge Mary McElroy (D.R.I)

Judge Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson is eligible for senior status in 2021, and Judge McElroy would be the frontrunner to replace her.  This is particularly unusual given that McElroy is a Trump appointee.  However, McElroy’s Trump appointment is an anomaly.  She is a Democrat and her nomination was championed by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  Furthermore, McElroy’s long career as a public defender would bring a fresh perspective to the First Circuit, which is dominated by former prosecutors.

Judge Jesse Furman (S.D.N.Y.)

I feel fairly safe in saying that Furman will be at the top of Democratic lists for elevation to the Second Circuit given his role in the suit over the Census Citizenship question.  Throughout the complicated nature of the litigation, Furman maintained firm control of the proceedings, and his judgment was largely upheld by the Supreme Court.  Interestingly, Furman was the target of an oblique critique from Justice Thomas who suggested he was “predisposed to distrust” Trump.  Despite Justice Thomas’ broadside, a majority of the Supreme Court sided with Furman’s position on the Census Question.  At 47 years old, Furman is perfectly placed for elevation in 2021 or even in 2025, when he would only be 52 years old.

Judge Cathy Bissoon (W.D. Pa.)

When she was appointed in 2011, Judge Cathy Bissoon was both the first Hispanic and the first Indian American judge on the Western District of Pennsylvania.  Today, the 51-year-old judge is poised for elevation to the Third Circuit, which desperately needs more female judges, down to just two out of fourteen.

Judge George Hazel (D. Md.)

At 45 years old, Hazel is the youngest Democratic-appointed federal judge in the country, and was the youngest federal judge in the country between his appointment in 2014 and the appointment of Judge Trevor McFadden in 2017.  Hazel has made a name for himself by handling the Maryland case challenging the Census Citizenship question, where he ruled that the Trump Administration violated the law in adding the question to the Census.  Hazel would be only 45 in 2021 and would be poised to join the Fourth Circuit where both Judges Paul Niemeyer and Diana Gribbon Motz are eligible for senior status.

Judge Carlton Reeves (S.D. Miss.)

Perhaps no district court currently sitting has had the degree of significance as Carlton Reeves, who has issued landmark decisions on same-sex marriage, religious liberty, race, voting rights, qualified immunity and more.  While, at 56, Reeves is on the older end of eligible nominees, his name will be first on the list for any Mississippi vacancy on the Fifth Circuit, perhaps if Judge James Graves moves to senior status upon eligibility in 2022.

Judge Travis McDonough (E.D. Tenn.)

McDonough doesn’t have the controversial opinions that others on this list do, but as a young, noncontroversial judge, he is a prime candidate for a Tennessee seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, including if Judge Bernice Donald moves to senior status.

Judge Andrea Wood (N.D. Ill.)

A Democrat hasn’t appointed a judge to the Seventh Circuit since Judge David Hamilton’s appointment in 2009, and the circuit is fairly lopsided as a result.  If and when the appointment comes, expect Judge Andrea Wood to be strongly considered.  The 47-year-old Wood has presided over a number of prominent cases in Chicago, including a class action against Bose Headphones, and has the intellectual rigor to hold her own in the notoriously academic court.

Judge Kristine Baker (E.D. Ark.)

The 49-year-old Baker has developed a bit of reputation from her Little Rock court as a judge willing to make hard decisions, even if they may fly against popular sentiment in her home-state.  For example, Baker relied on Supreme Court precedent to block a number of draconian anti-abortion measures in Arkansas from going into effect, a decision which prompted cries of judicial “activism.”  Setting the issues aside, Baker would be an ideal candidate if Judges Bobby Shepherd or Lavenski Smith moved to senior status.  Her status as a woman would also diversify one of the most male-dominated courts in the country (only two women have ever served on the Eighth Circuit).

Judge Vince Chhabria (N.D. Cal.)

The 50-year-old Chhabria has already made a name for himself as a strongly liberal voice on an even-otherwise liberal bench, making notable rulings, including striking down a law that prohibited IMDB from posting the birthdates of actors, citing the First Amendment.  If elevated, Chhabria would be the first Indian American judge on the Ninth Circuit.

Judge Robert Shelby (D. Utah)

Shelby may seem like an unusual choice for a Democratic appellate appointee, given that he is, at least nominally, a Republican.  Nonetheless, Shelby has won plaudits in Utah for his fair rulings, including many that seem downright liberal.  For example, in 2013, Shelby made headlines by striking down Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage, despite the fact that almost no court in the country had adopted such a position.  Shelby’s prescience in reading the law would serve him well on the Tenth Circuit, particularly to replace Judge Scott Matheson (if he moves to senior status upon eligibility).

Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner (M.D. Ga.)

The sister of the famous Stacey Abrams, Judge Leslie Abrams Gardner made history as the first woman ever appointed to the Middle District of Georgia.  The 45-year-old Gardner is poised to potentially make history again as the first black woman appointed to the Eleventh Circuit (and potentially further to the Supreme Court).

Judge Lucy Koh (N.D. Cal.)

I’m cheating a bit by including Koh in here as she has already been a nominee, tapped late in the Obama Administration for the Ninth Circuit, but never confirmed.  Personally, however, Koh seems a better fit for the Federal Circuit.  Throughout the history of the Federal Circuit, only one district judge has ever served on the court (Judge Kate O’Malley).  Koh, who handled patent matters in private practice, and who became famous for presiding over Apple’s suits against Samsung over smartphones, has the expertise and the intellect to excel on this specialized court of appeals.