Lawrence VanDyke – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

The Senate votes today on one of the most controversial Trump nominees of this year: Lawrence VanDyke.

Background

Lawrence James Christopher VanDyke was born in 1972 in Midland TX.  After getting a B.S. from Montana State University in 1997, VanDyke attended Harvard Law School, where he graduated magna cum laude in 2005.  After graduating from law school, VanDyke clerked for Judge Janice Rogers Brown on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then became an associate at Gibson Dunn in Dallas.[1] 

In 2012, VanDyke served as Assistant Solicitor General in Texas for a year before being selected by newly elected Attorney General Tim Fox as Attorney General in Montana.[2]  In 2014, VanDyke ran for a seat on the Montana Supreme Court but was not elected.  He then moved to Nevada to become Nevada’s Solicitor General under Attorney General Paul Laxalt.[3] 

In 2019, after Laxalt left and the Nevada Attorney General’s Office fell to Democrats, VanDyke joined the Department of Justice as Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Environmental Division.

History of the Seat

VanDyke has been nominated for a future vacancy that will open upon the retirement of Judge Jay Bybee on December 31, 2019.  VanDyke was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in a Ninth Circuit appointment in July 2019 and was nominated on September 19, 2019.

Legal Career

While VanDyke started his legal career as an associate at Gibson Dunn, the bulk of his career has been spent at the Solicitor General’s Offices in Texas, Montana, and Nevada.  Over his career, VanDyke has litigated extensively in state and federal courts.

In addition, VanDyke has also represented a number of conservative organizations and entities, including Alliance Defending Freedom, First Liberty, and Gays & Lesbians for Individual Liberty.

In particular, VanDyke has litigated against federal regulations, successfully enjoining a Department of Labor rule that reduced the number of employees who were exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[4]

Writings

Consistent with the rest of his legal career, VanDyke’s writings generally reflect a conservative legal and political philosophy.  For example, as a law student, VanDyke authored a book review of Francis Beckwith’s Law, Darwinism, & Public Education: The Establishment Clause and the Challenge of Intelligent Design.[5]  In the article, VanDyke discusses Beckwith’s view on intelligent design, and suggests that it can be taught in the classroom without violating the Establishment Clause, arguing that intelligent design should be treated as akin to empirical fact rather than treating it as a religion.  VanDyke’s view drew sharp criticism from commentators who noted that intelligent design relies on Biblical principles rather than empirically determined facts.[6]

Additionally, while at Harvard, VanDyke authored a defense of Prof. Mary Ann Glendon, who had authored an editorial against gay marriage.[7]  The post, written in 2004, argues that social science research from Scandinavia suggests that same-sex marriage hurts “families, and consequently children and society.”[8]  He also notes that an expansion of rights for same-sex couples, including marriage, would infringe upon the rights of those with religious objections to such unions.[9]

Political Activity

In 2014, VanDyke challenged incumbent Montana Supreme Court Justice Mike Wheat.  VanDyke resigned as Solicitor General shortly before his challenge to Wheat, noting that he had “disagreements with co-workers over his approach to the job.”[10]  The campaign was heated, and VanDyke received a fair amount of criticism for his prior writings and speeches, particularly his views on intelligent design and on LGBT rights.[11]  During the election, VanDyke sought the endorsement of the National Rifle Association, endorsing a broad view of gun rights and noting that he had avoided becoming a member of the NRA in order to avoid recusal issues in his office.[12]  Wheat ultimately won the election by a comfortable margin.[13]

ABA Controversy

As it has done for every judicial nominee since the Eisenhower Administration, the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary conducted a review of VanDyke’s record.  After reviewing his record and conducting around 60 interviews with colleagues, judges, and attorneys, the ABA rated VanDyke as “Not Qualified.”[14]  In the letter, the ABA noted that some of the interviewees described VanDyke as “arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice.”[15]  The ABA’s rating and letter has drawn criticism from Republicans who argue that the organization is biased against Trump nominees.[16]  For his part, the criticism raised complaints from VanDyke himself who argued that he was not given adequate time to explain the criticisms during his interview.

Overall Assessment

Today, the Senate will vote on and likely confirm Lawrence VanDyke to the Ninth Circuit.  Ironically, in framing its criticism of VanDyke in unusually candid terms, the ABA has likely ensured that VanDyke will ultimately be confirmed by making themselves a bugbear.

Let us set out the obvious: VanDyke has the academic qualifications for an appellate seat.  Even the ABA does not dispute this point.  As such, the real question is whether VanDyke’s history suggests that he would be a fair and impartial judge on the Ninth Circuit.  Opponents will find plenty in VanDyke’s record to argue that he will not, including his history of advocacy for conservative causes, his writings, and his NRA questionnaire.  

As such, this confirmation, like so many before in this Administration, will come down to a vote of Republicans v. Democrats.  In this Senate, that means that Republicans win.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees: Lawrence VanDyke 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Nevada v. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 275 F. Supp. 3d 795 (E.D. Tex. 2017).

[5] Lawrence VanDyke, Not Your Daddy’s Fundamentalism: Intelligent Design in the Classroom, 117 Harv. L. Rev. 964 (2004).

[6] See Don Pogreba, A Creationist for the Montana Supreme Court? A Review of Lawrence VanDyke, The Montana Post, March 17, 2014, https://themontanapost.com/blog/2014/03/17/a-creationist-for-the-montana-supreme-court-a-review-of-lawrence-vandyke/.  

[7] Lawrence VanDyke, One Student’s Response to “A Response to Glendon”, Harvard Law Record, Mar. 11, 2004, http://hlrecord.org/one-students-response-to-a-response-to-glendon/.  

[8] See id.

[9] Id.

[10] Anthony Johnstone, A Past and Future of Judicial Elections: The Case of Montana, 16 J. App. Prac. & Process 47, 96 (Spring 2015).

[11] See John D. Echeverria, State Judicial Elections and Environmental Law: Case Studies of Montana, North Carolina, Washington, and Wisconsin, 16 Vt. J. Envr. L. 363, 365-66 (Spring 2015).

[12] See Lawrence Van Dyke, Questionnaire for the National Rifle Association, https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/VanDyke%20-%20NRA%20Questionnaire.pdf.  

[13] See id.

[14] See Letter from William C. Hubbard, https://src.bna.com/Msq.  

[15] Id.

[16] See Madison Adler and Melissa Heelan Stanzione, Judicial Ratings Draw Ire of Left, Right After Tearful Hearing, Bloomberg Law, Nov. 6, 2019, https://news.bloomberglaw.com/us-law-week/judicial-ratings-draw-ire-of-left-right-after-tearful-hearing.  

Judge Andrew Brasher – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Six months ago, Judge Andrew Brasher was narrowly confirmed to be a U.S. District Court Judge.  Now, the 38-year-old Brasher is ready to move on from the position to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

Background

Andrew Lynn Brasher was born in Milan, TN on May 20, 1981.  Brasher moved to Alabama to attend Samford University, a private Christian University in Homewood, where he graduated summa cum laude in 2002.[1]  Brasher went on to Harvard Law School, graduating cum laude in 2006.

Upon graduation, Brasher clerked for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.[2]  He then joined the Birmingham office of Bradley Arant Boult Cummings LLP as an Associate.

In 2011, Brasher was appointed by Luther Strange, then the Attorney General of Alabama, to be Deputy Solicitor General.  Brasher served in that capacity until 2014 when he was appointed Solicitor General of Alabama.[3] 

In April 2018, Brasher was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama, filling a longstanding vacancy opened by the resignation of Judge Mark Fuller.  Brasher was confirmed by the Senate in a 52-47 vote on May 1, 2019, and has served on the Middle District since then.

History of the Seat

Brasher has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat is being vacated by Judge Edward Carnes, who has a reputation as one of the most conservative judges on an already conservative court.

Legal Experience

Setting aside his clerkship, Brasher had two main legal jobs before he joined the federal bench: as an associate at Bradley Arant; and as Deputy Solicitor General and Solicitor General of Alabama.  During his time at Bradley Arant, Brasher worked in complex civil litigation, including product liability cases.  At the firm, he notably represented Republican Gov. Bob Riley in defending a controversial line item veto (later overturned by the Alabama Supreme Court).[12]

As the Deputy Solicitor General and Solicitor General of Alabama, Brasher defended Alabama laws and convictions before state and federal courts.  As such, Brasher argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court.  

In McWilliams v. Dunn, Brasher defended the imposition of the death penalty on James McWilliams, who alleged that he had serious mental health issues.[13]  McWilliams argued that Supreme Court precedent required him to have access to a defense expert to provide evidence of mental incapacity, which Brasher disputed.  The Supreme Court ultimately sidestepped the question of whether McWilliams was entitled to a defense expert, ruling instead that the judge erred in denying any expert examination of McWilliam’s mental state.[14] 

In Alabama Legislative Black Caucus v. Alabama, Brasher defended the constitutionality of Alabama’s state legislative districts.  The districts were ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as an unconstitutional racial gerrymander intended to disenfranchise African American voters.[15]  Additionally, in Alabama Department of Revenue v. CSX Transp., Inc., Brasher defended an Alabama tax on diesel for rail carriers while exempting competitor industries against charges that it was discriminatory.  The Court ultimately held that Alabama had violated federal law.[16]

In addition to his Supreme Court work, Brasher has also litigated extensively in Alabama state and federal courts.  Notably, Brasher defended the constitutionality of “admission privilege” requirements for abortion providers in Alabama, struck down by Judge Myron Thompson, and ultimately enjoined after the Supreme Court struck down a virtually identical law in Whole Woman’s Health.[17]  Brasher also successfully defended Alabama’s ban on PAC-to-PAC transfers against allegations that it violated the First Amendment.[18]

Jurisprudence

Brasher has served on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama since May 2019.  In the six months that he has served on the bench, Brasher has issued a number of orders and opinions in cases.  Many of the cases in which Brasher has authored opinions have been cases of employment discrimination.  In most of these, Brasher has sided with the employer, granting summary judgment in their favor in cases alleging racial,[19] age-based,[20] and disability-based discrimination.[21] 

However, Brasher has shown himself to be open to employee claims in some cases.  For example, in one case, Brasher allowed the sexual harassment claims of a male employee against Koch Foods to move to trial, noting that the employee had offered evidence that his female boss had terminated his employment shortly after he denied her sexual advances.[22]  Similarly, he granted summary judgment in favor of restaurant workers who were improperly denied minimum wages and overtime payments under the Fair Labor Standards Act.[23]

In other cases, Brasher ruled against a Dothan-based doctor who sued the federal government seeking refunds of tax payments,[24] and held that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) could not seek the maximum statutory penalty of disgorgement against corporations who had violated the Commodity Exchange Act.[25] 

Writings and Speeches

Setting aside the official positions he took as Alabama Solicitor General, Brasher had written and spoken extensively on legal and political issues before he joined the bench.  

Charitable Donations

On July 21, 2015, Brasher moderated a debate titled “Fat Cats and Philanthropists: How the IRS Governs Your Charitable Donations.”  The discussion was between Dr. Craig Holman from Public Citizen and Hans Von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation.[26]  While Brasher did not interject often in the debate, he did ask a couple of questions to each panelist.[27]

Federal Regulation

On February 4, 2017, Brasher served on a Federalist Society panel titled “Combating Federal Overreach.”[28]  The panel consisted of Brasher and the Solicitor Generals of Florida, West Virginia, and Texas, moderated by Allen Winsor, a former Florida Solicitor General who is now up for a federal judgeship.  Brasher specifically discussed the litigation over the EPA’s control of “navigable waters” as defined by the Clean Water Act and interpreted by the Army Corps of Engineers.  Brasher criticizes the rule as overly broad and beyond the statutory intent of Congress.  Later, Brasher also criticizes local regulations, noting:

“…oftentimes, you actually see a locality within a state that’s really, sort of, in league with the federal government against the state’s authority.”[29]

Same-Sex Marriage

In 2015, while defending Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage before the U.S. Supreme Court, Brasher wrote an article on the subject on SCOTUSBlog.[30]  In the piece, Brasher argues that the Supreme Court “should at least reject the argument that these laws serve no legitimate state interest.”[31]  Instead, he argued that states maintained a legitimate interest in limiting marriage to opposite sex couples, noting:

“I hope that . . . [the Court] does not malign the majority of voters in a majority of states as irrationally prejudiced.”[32] 

Death Penalty

Shortly after the Supreme Court narrowly upheld Oklahoma’s lethal injection procedure in Glossip v. Gross, Brasher authored an article in SCOTUSBlog supporting the decision.[33]  In the article, Brasher argues that disputes about the method of administering the death penalty are actually about the legality of the penalty itself, stating:

“Why pretend these disputes are about a particular method of execution when they clearly go to the viability of capital punishment itself?”[34]

However, Brasher also acknowledges some of the arguments of death penalty opponents, noting:

“It is hard to argue that the death penalty is a strong deterrent when capital cases take twenty-five years to process.”

Redistricting

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down North Carolina’s redistricted maps in Cooper v. Harris, Brasher published an article critical of the decision.[35]  Brasher suggested that the decision would lead to more judicial intervention in redistricting without providing adequate standards for them to do so, and suggested that courts impose a requirement on plaintiffs to offer a map that would meet the partisan goals of the legislature.[36]

Political Activity

Brasher, a Republican, has worked as a volunteer on the 2010 campaigns of Luther Strange to be Attorney General and of Bradley Byrne (now a U.S. Representative) to be Governor of Alabama.[37]  Brasher also served on the Trump Transition Team, coordinating criminal justice policy with the incoming Administration.[38]

In addition, Brasher donated $300 to the Alabama Republican Party in 2015, his only notable political contribution.[39]

Overall Assessment

Despite Brasher’s significant experience with litigation, his youth and strongly conservative writings and experience made him a controversial nominee at the district court level and caused his nomination to sit for over a year before confirmation by a narrow vote.  Now, as an appellate nominee, Brasher may well have a faster confirmation, simply because Republicans tend to prioritize appellate nominees.  Nonetheless, Brasher’s brief tenure as a district court judge, as well as his youth and conservative ideology, is likely to make him a controversial nominee.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Andrew Brasher: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Kyle Whitmire, Federal Judge Mark Fuller Resigns, AL.com, May 29, 2015, http://www.al.com/news/index.ssf/2015/05/federal_judge_mark_fuller_resi.html.  

[5] Compare Pema Levy, Jeff Sessions has a History of Blocking Black Judges, Mother Jones, Jan. 9, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/jeff-sessions-blocked-black-judges-alabama/ with Mary Troyan, Judicial Vacancies in Alabama Pile Up, Montgomery Advertiser, April 22, 2015, http://www.montgomeryadvertiser.com/story/news/local/alabama/2015/04/22/judicial-vacancies-alabama-pile/26166537/.  

[6] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates (Sept. 7, 2017) (on file at https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/07/president-donald-j-trump-announces-seventh-wave-judicial-candidates).    

[7] Matt Apuzzo and Michael S. Schmidt, Trump Judicial Pick Did Not Disclose He is Married to a White House Lawyer, N.Y. Times, Nov. 13, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/13/us/politics/trump-judge-brett-talley-nomination.html?_r=0.  

[8] Zoe Tillman, A Trump Judicial Nominee Appears to have Written About Politics on a Sports Website and Didn’t Disclose It, Buzzfeed News, Nov. 13, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/a-trump-judicial-nominee-appears-to-have-written-about?utm_term=.lfJaLQm8G#.atjgYrER6.

[9] Mark Joseph Stern, Trump Judicial Nominee Brett Talley Appears to Have Defended “the First KKK” in Message Board Post, Slate, Nov. 15, 2017, http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/11/15/trump_nominee_brett_talley_appears_to_have_defended_the_first_kkk.html.  

[10] Zoe Tillman, The White House Says Two of Trump’s Controversial Judicial Nominees Won’t Go Forward, BuzzFeed News, Dec. 12, 2017, https://www.buzzfeed.com/zoetillman/trump-is-suddenly-facing-a-significant-republican-roadblock?utm_term=.bo9w8BdnA#.siJmaqzpA.  

[11] See Brasher, supra n. 1 at 40-41.

[12] McWilliams v. Dunn, 137 S. Ct. 1790 (2017).

[13] Alabama et al. v. Nat’l Marine Fisheries Service, et al., No. CV-16-00593 (S.D. Ala. Nov. 29, 2016).

[14] See id.

[15] See 135 S. Ct. 1257 (2015).

[16] 135 S. Ct. 1136 (2015).

[17] See Planned Parenthood Southeast v. Strange, 2:13cv405-MHT (M.D. Ala.).

[18] Alabama Democratic Conference v. Attorney Gen., 838 F.3d 1057 (11th Cir. 2016).

[19] James v. City of Montgomery, Case No. 2:17-cv-528-ALB, 2019 WL 3346530 (M.D. Ala. July 25, 2019).

[20] See Knowles v. Inzi Controls Alabama, Inc., Case No. 1:17-cv-839-ALB, 2019 WL 4551609 (M.D. Ala. Sept. 19, 2019).

[21] See Hughes v. Wal-Mart Stores East, LP, Case No. 2:17-cv-225-ALB, 2019 WL 6048878 (M.D. Ala. Nov. 14, 2019).

[22] See Fuller v. Koch Foods, Inc., Case No. 2:17-cv-96-ALB, 2019 WL 3072633 (M.D. Ala. July 12, 2019).

[23] See Moulton v. W.W.I., Inc., Case No. 1:18-cv-67-ALB, 2019 WL 3558032 (M.D. Ala. Aug. 5, 2019).

[24] Turnham v. United States, 383 F.Supp.3d 1288 (M.D. Ala. 2019).

[25] U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Comm’n v. Dinar Corp., Inc., Case No. 1:15-cv-538-ALB, 2019 WL 3842069 (M.D. Ala. May 30, 2019).

[26] Andrew Brasher, Fat Cats and Philanthropists: How the IRS Governs Your Charitable Donations (July 21, 2015) (video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_1tFCp-rYGQ).  

[27] Id. at 41:22.

[28] Andrew Brasher, Combatting Federal Overreach (Feb. 4, 2017) (video available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-71pu5xnOA).

[29] Id. at 1:19:45.

[30] Andrew Brasher, Good Faith and Caution, Not Irrationality or Malice, SCOTUSBlog, Jan. 16, 2015, http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/01/symposium-good-faith-and-caution-not-irrationality-or-malice/.

[31] See id.

[32] Id.

[33] Andrew Brasher, The Death Penalty Lives to Fight Another Day, SCOTUSBlog, June 29, 2015, http://www.scotusblog.com/2015/06/symposium-the-death-penalty-lives-to-fight-another-day/.  

[34] Id.

[35] Andrew Brasher, A Recipe for Continued Confusion and More Judicial Involvement in Redistricting, SCOTUSBlog, Mar. 23, 2017, http://www.scotusblog.com/2017/05/symposium-recipe-continued-confusion-judicial-involvement-redistricting/.  

[36] Id.

[37] See Brasher, supra n. 1 at 20.

[38] See id.

Patrick Bumatay – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Patrick Bumatay was originally nominated last year, amidst much self-congratulatory fanfare, for the Ninth Circuit, with many noting that Bumatay, if confirmed, would be the first openly LGBT circuit judge on the territorial courts of appeals.  However, the opposition of California’s Democratic Senators downgraded Bumatay’s nomination to the district court level.  However, with his nomination still stalled, the White House has tapped Bumatay again for the Ninth Circuit.

Background

Patrick Joseph Bumatay was born on February 14, 1978.  As a college student, Bumatay interned for the consulting company run by Kellyanne Fitzpatrick (now Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the President).  Bumatay attended Yale University and then Harvard Law School.  He then clerked for Judge Sandra Townes on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York and for Judge Timothy Tymkovich on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

After his clerkships, Bumatay joined Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason Anello & Bohrer P.C. in New York.  In 2012, Bumatay moved to San Diego to join the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, where he still works.  However, since 2017, Bumatay has been on detail with the Department of Justice, working in the Attorney General’s office.

History of the Seat

Bumatay has been nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to fill a seat being vacated by Judge Carlos Bea.  Bumatay was previously nominated for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit vacated by Judge Alex Kozinski on October 10, 2018.  However, due to the opposition of California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, Bumatay was renominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on September 30, 2016, by Judge Marilyn Huff’s move to senior status.  Instead, President Trump nominated Dan Bress, a D.C. based attorney, to the Kozinski seat (Bress was subsequently confirmed).  However, Bumatay’s nomination to the District Court didn’t move either, potentially because of blue slip issues.  Instead, he was once again tapped for the Ninth Circuit.

Legal Experience

Bumatay has spent his career in two primary positions, at the firm of Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason Anello & Bohrer P.C. and at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of California.  In the former position, Bumatay worked on both regulatory and litigation matters, including representing the asset management firm GAMCO in defending against a suit filed by account holders who lost money through GAMCO’s investment in Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.[1] 

As a federal prosecutor, Bumatay tried eight criminal cases to verdict, focusing largely on drug and immigration cases.  For example, Bumatay tried a number of defendants for the maritime drug trafficking of cocaine.[2]  Bumatay also prosecuted Nicholas Zakov for smuggling Mexican citizens into the United States in his trunk (both citizens unfortunately passed away during the journey).[3]

Since 2017, Bumatay has been on detail at the Department of Justice, where he has overseen criminal and civil policy in the Attorney General’s and Deputy Attorney General’s Offices.

Political Activity

While in college, Bumatay was a member of Yale’s Conservative Party.[4]  Notably, Bumatay, as a college student, was sharply critical of affirmative action, mocking proponents by stating:

“…all men are created equal — unless they are Asian or white.”[5]

Later, Bumatay became co-president of the Yale College Republicans, and supported Republican candidates in New Hampshire.[6]  He also defended President Bush’s grades in college, stating:

“Grades that he got from 25 years ago will not reflect how well he can lead the country.”[7]

Bumatay has also donated to the campaigns of Bush in 2003 and Romney in 2011 and 2012.[8]

Overall Assessment

The White House and California’s Democratic Senators have already had some public clashes over the three California Ninth Circuit nominees confirmed so far.  They are similarly clashing over Bumatay.  Nevertheless, at a time when partisanship on judicial nominees has reached an all-time high, it may be sufficient for Republican senators that Bumatay is a Republican nominated by Trump, which should lead to his confirmation.


[1] See Rioseco v. Gamco Asset Mgmt., Inc., No. 15862/10 (N.Y. Super. Ct., Westchester Cty., Comm. Div. Sept. 23, 2011).

[2] See United States v. Valdez-Medina, 15CR0336-JAH (S.D. Cal. Nov. 22, 2016); United States v. Cedeno-Cedeno, 14CR3305-L (S.D. Cal. Aug. 23-30, 2016).

[3] United States v. Zakov, 14CR2363-AJB (S.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2015).

[4] Hyorim Suh, Yale Profs Debate Affirmative Action With Harvard Teachers, Yale Daily News, Oct. 12, 1999.

[5] See id.

[6] Perry Bacon, Yale Students Hit the Campaign Trail in New Hampshire, Yale Daily News, Oct. 25, 1999.

[7] Brigitte Greenberg, Magazine Publishes Bush’s Alleged Grades, Associated Press, Nov. 10, 1999.

Justice Barbara Lagoa – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Barbara Lagoa, a Justice on the Florida Supreme Court, would be Trump’s first nonwhite nominee to the Eleventh Circuit, and would flip the court to being evenly divided between the genders, a rare case of gender progress on the bench in the last few years.

Background

Barbara Lagoa was born in Miami in 1967.  After getting a B.A. with honors from Florida International University, Lagoa joined Columbia University Law School, graduating in 1992.  After graduating, Lagoa worked in private practice in Miami, moving between the firms of Morgan Lewis & Brockius LLP, Schulte Blum McMahon Joblove & Haft, Cohen Berke Bernstein Brodie & Kondell, P.A., and Greenberg Traurig.

In 2003, Lagoa became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  In 2006, Gov. Jeb Bush appointed her to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida.  In 2019, she was elevated by Gov. Ron DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Lagoa was tapped for a Florida seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Stanley Marcus.  Notably, Lagoa was nominated only months after she joined the Florida Supreme Court.

Legal Experience

Before she became a judge, Lagoa gained experience in both civil and criminal law, working in private practice and with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  However, perhaps the most prominent case that Lagoa handled was her representation of Lazaro Gonzalez, the Miami-based great uncle of Elian Gonzalez.[1]  Gonzalez left Cuba with his mother and her boyfriend, who both died during the boat journey into Florida.[2]  The push to return Gonzalez to Cuba caused significant partisan conflict as well as intervention by both Congress and the Clinton Administration.[3]  In representing the family, Lagoa represented them in the media and court proceedings seeking to block Elian’s removal to Cuba.[4]  Elian was ultimately returned to his father’s family in Cuba after intervention by Attorney General Janet Reno after court intervention was rejected.

Jurisprudence

Lagoa has served on the Florida Supreme Court for approximately eight months, before which she was a judge on the Court of Appeal of Florida for thirteen years.  On both courts, Lagoa has developed a conservative jurisprudence.  Her appointment to the Florida Supreme Court in 2019, alongside that of Judges Carlos Muniz and Robert Luck, flipped the court from a liberal majority to a conservative one.  This new conservative majority reversed several decisions made by the previous majority, with the only holdover majority judge, Judge Jorge Labarga, in dissent.[5]

For example, in one case, Lagoa joined 6-1 majorities in reversing two 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decisions: one that upheld Orange County election code that allowed officials to be elected in nonpartisan elections; and one that handled attorney-fee disputes in a foreclosure battle.[6]  In a different case, Lagoa joined the majority in reversing another 4-3 Florida Supreme Court ruling and allowing Florida legislative standards for expert witnesses to be entered, even as her fellow conservative Robert Luck excoriated the court for failing to follow proper procedures in reversing itself.[7]

Overall Assessment

With extensive experience as an appellate judge and as a Supreme Court justice, Lagoa is certainly well-qualified for an appellate seat.  While she may draw questions about her conservative jurisprudence, it is likely to be expected that this Administration will put out conservative candidates.  As such, Lagoa would likely be confirmed fairly comfortably.


[1] Tom Raum, Capitol Hill Wary on Cuban Boy, A.P. Online, Jan. 27, 2000.

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See, e.g.,  Wolf Blitzer, Mark Potter, Federal Court Begins Examining Complicated International Custody Battle Over Elian Gonzalez, CNN The World Today, Mar. 9, 2000.

[5] See Florida Politics, Reversals Show New Day on Supreme Court, State Capital Newsfeed, Apr. 19, 2019.

[6] See id.

[7] What’s Up With Florida’s New Supreme Court? This Case Helps Explain,  Tampa Bay Times Blogs, May 24, 2019.

Justice Robert Luck – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit

Trump has frequently elevated justices on state supreme courts to the federal bench.  However, Florida Supreme Court Justice Robert Luck is unique in the swiftness of his elevation as he has barely served six months before being nominated for the Eleventh Circuit.

Background

Robert Joshua Luck was born in South Miami on March 17, 1979.  After getting a B.A. with Highest Honors from the University of Florida, Luck spent a year as a Legislative Correspondent in the U.S. Senate.[1]  He then joined the University of Florida Levin College of Law, graduating magna cum laude in 2004.  After graduating, Luck clerked for the very conservative Judge Ed Carnes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, and went on to become a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.

In 2013, Governor Rick Scott named Luck to be a Judge on the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court in Florida.  In 2017, he was elevated to the Third District Court of Appeal.  In 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Luck to the Florida Supreme Court, replacing Justice Barbara Pariente.  Luck now serves on the Supreme Court.

History of the Seat

Luck was tapped for a Florida seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.  The seat was vacated by Judge Gerald Bard Tjoflat, who is the longest serving active judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, having served since 1976.  Notably, Luck was nominated only months after he joined the Florida Supreme Court.

Legal Experience

Luck’s primary experience before he became a judge is as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida.  In his five years with the office, Luck tried nineteen cases to a jury.[2]

Among his trials, Luck prosecuted Rene De Los Rios, a doctor who fraudulently billed Medicare by around $50 million, resulting in a conviction and a twenty year sentence.[3]  Luck also prosecuted Crecencio Hernandez, who attempted to smuggle foreign nationals into the United States when his boat capsized, killing six people.[4]  He also prosecuted Juan Carlos Rodriguez who operated MDN Financial, a Ponzi scheme that cost many clients their life’s savings.[5]

Jurisprudence

Even though he is only forty, Luck has already served on three levels of Florida courts, the Circuit Court; the Court of Appeals; and the Florida Supreme Court.  His jurisprudence at all three reflects a conservative judicial philosophy, albeit one that does lead to some independent decisions.

Trial Court

In 2013, Luck was appointed to the Eleventh Judicial Circuit in Florida, where he served until 2017.  On that court, Luck sat in both the Civil and Criminal Divisions, overseeing felony cases and civil cases with over $15,000 in controversy.  All in all, Luck presided over approximately 300 cases.  Among these was that of Ricardo Garganelly, who attacked Luck during his competency hearing.[6]  Luck subsequently recused himself from Garganelly’s case.[7]

Court of Appeals

In 2017, Luck was appointed to the Court of Appeal of Florida for the Third District, where he served until his appointment to the Florida Supreme Court.  In this role, Luck served as an intermediate appellate judge.  As a judge, Luck wrote for the court in rejecting a lawsuit alleging that Miami-Dade Commissioner Joe Carrollo was ineligible to hold office.[8]  In another decision, Luck held that a charge for defamation couldn’t stand against the Diocese of Palm Beach because litigating such a dispute would entangle the court in ecclisiastical affairs.[9]

Florida Supreme Court

Since his appointment in 2019, Luck has served on the Florida Supreme Court where he has been one of seven justices who has served as the final voice on Florida law.  Luck’s appointment to the Florida Supreme Court, alongside that of Justices Barbara Lagoa and Carlos Muniz, flipped the Court to a conservative majority, and led to a flurry of reversals on the court, where the new majority overturned decisions made by the previous liberal majority.[10]

For example, in one case, Luck joined 6-1 majorities in reversing two 4-3 Florida Supreme Court decisions: one that upheld Orange County election code that allowed officials to be elected in nonpartisan elections; and one that handled attorney-fee disputes in a foreclosure battle.[11]  The reversals could suggest that Luck would be willing to revisit and overturn precedent without feeling bound by stare decisis.

However, in a different case, as the new majority reversed another 4-3 Florida Supreme Court ruling, allowing Florida legislative standards for expert witnesses to be entered, Luck joined Judge Jorge Labarga (the lone liberal on the court) in dissent.[12]

Overall Assessment

While Luck’s record is that of a judicial conservative, it displays signs of a more independent bent.  For example, Luck was the only one of the Florida Supreme Court conservatives to dissent as the court overturned prior precedent to uphold legislative restrictions on expert testimony.  As such, while Luck would no doubt maintain a conservative bent on the Eleventh Circuit, his jurisprudence may nonetheless surprise parties in some cases.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Robert Luck: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See Luck, supra n. 1 at 44.

[3] See United States v. De Los Rios, 489 F. App’x 320 (11th Cir. 2012).

[4] United States v. Hernandez, Case No. 08-21054 CR-Zloch.

[5] See United States v. Rodriguez, 537 F. App’x 840 (11th Cir. 2013).

[6] David Ovalle, Miami-Dade Judge Returns to Bench After Attack in Courtroom,  Miami Herald, Feb. 13, 2015, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article9999575.html.

[7] See id.

[8] See Florida Politics, Appeals Court Rejects Election Challenge Over Residency, State Capital Newsfeed, May 2, 2018.

[9] Florida Politics, Court Sides With Church in Priest Defamation Fight, State Capital Newsfeed, May 9, 2018.

[10] See Florida Politics, Reversals Show New Day on Supreme Court, State Capital Newsfeed, Apr. 19, 2019.

[11] See id.

[12] What’s Up With Florida’s New Supreme Court? This Case Helps Explain,  Tampa Bay Times Blogs, May 24, 2019.

Judge Danielle Hunsaker – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Last July, Ryan Bounds became a first appellate nominee to be rejected due to lack of majority support since the enactment of the nuclear option in 2013.  Bounds faced particular opposition due to the lack of support from his home-state senators.  With the senators in support of the newest candidate to that seat, Judge Danielle Hunsaker will likely be confirmed comfortably.

Background

Hunsaker was born Danielle Jo Forrest in 1977 in Roseburg, OR.  Hunsaker received her B.A. from the University of Idaho in 2001 and a J.D. from the University of Idaho Law School summa cum laude in 2004.[1]  After graduating from law school, Hunsaker clerked for Judge Paul Kelly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Judge Michael Mosman on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, and for Judge Diarmund O’Scannlain on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[2] 

After her clerkships, Hunsaker joined Stoel Rives LLP in Portand as a Litigation Associate, and moved after a year to Larkins Vacura Keyser LLP, where she became a Partner in 2014.[3]  In 2017, Hunsaker was nominated by Gov. Kate Brown to the Washington County Circuit Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Hunsaker has been nominated to an Oregon seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  This seat opened on December 31, 2016 with O’Scannlain’s move to senior status.  In 2017, Oregon attorney Ryan Bounds was recommended for the judge vacancy by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R – Or.), whose chief of staff is Bounds’ sister.  Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley offered Oregon District Judge Marco A. Hernandez as a potential nominee to the White House.  However, the White House nominated Bounds on September 7, 2017.

In response, both Wyden and Merkley declined to return blue slips on Bounds, noting, in a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn, that Bounds had not been approved by the state’s bipartisan judicial selection committee as of his nomination date, and that they had not been adequately consulted.  McGahn disputed the lack of consultation and instead criticized the senators for not engaging with or vetting Bounds for several months after his name was first proposed.  Nonetheless, the Senate Judiciary Committee processed Bounds’ nomination.  However, the nomination failed on the Senate floor when Sen. Tim Scott announced his opposition based on writings from Bounds’ past that contained racially fraught statements.[4]

For her part, Hunsaker had applied for the vacancy with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.[5]  She interviewed with the White House in January 2018 (while Bounds was already the nominee) and again in July 2018 (after the defeat of Bounds’ nomination).  In June 2019, Hunsaker reapplied with Wyden and was selected as one of four finalists by Oregon’s Democratic Senators.[6]  Hunsaker’s nomination was subsequently announced by the White House.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Hunsaker worked primarily as a commercial civil litigator.  Hunsaker notably represented the rideshare company Lyft in a suit to keep information on riders and drivers collected by Seattle regulators secret from access to media companies.[7]  She also represented investors in derivative actions and similar suits.  Furthermore, Hunsaker represented a prisoner injured in an excessive force claim against the guards who injured him.[8]

Jurisprudence

Hunsaker has spent the last two years serving as a circuit judge in Oregon, where she presides over criminal and civil cases on the trial level.  In this role, Hunsaker has presided over approximately 23 jury trials.  Among her more prominent cases, Hunsaker acquitted parents of a baby testing positive for methamphetamine of child abuse, ruling that the state had failed to prove the “knowing” element of child abuse.[9]

Writings

As a law student, Hunsaker authored a note discussing the Supreme Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona and the subsequent Idaho remedial death penalty statute passed.[10]  Ring ruled that, where the death penalty is imposed, any additional aggravating factores leading to exposure to the death penalty must be determined by the jury and not by a judge.[11]  Hunsaker notes that this decision invalidated the death penalty scheme in Idaho, leading to a revised scheme wherein the jury convenes for a sentencing hearing after a determination of guilt in capital cases.[12]  Overall, Hunsaker commends the legislature for adapting the death penalty scheme post-Ring but adds that further tweaks may be necessary to ensure a role for the jury in capital sentencing.[13]

Overall Assessment

Hunsaker was not the Administration’s first choice for the Ninth Circuit, but she is nonetheless likely to get a comfortable confirmation.  Hunsaker’s Federalist Society credentials are likely to endear her to Republicans while her appointment by a Democratic Governor will ensure support from Democrats.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Danielle Hunsaker: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Nina Totenberg and Jessica Taylor, Appeals Court Nomination Withdrawn Before An Expected Failure on Senate Floor, Nat’l Pub. Radio, Jul. 19, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/07/19/630552662/appeals-court-nomination-withdrawn-before-it-was-expected-to-fail-on-senate-floo.  

[5] See Hunsaker, supra n. 1 at 45.

[6] The other three finalists included two Oregon Court of Appeals judges, Judge James Egan, and Judge Erin Lagesen, and appellate attorney Bruce Campbell.

[7] See Lyft v. King Broadcasting Co., No. 16-2-26971-1 (Wash. Circ. Ct., King Cnty.).

[8] See Tilahun v. Oregon Dep’t of Corr., No. 2:13-cv-01074 (D. Or.).

[9] State v. Richelle Seamster, No. 18CR35682 (Or. Cir. Ct. Wash. Cnty.); State v. Andre Wamulumba, No. 18CR40953 (Or. Cir. Ct. Wash. Cnty.).

[10] Danielle J. Hunsaker, The Right to a Jury “Has Never Been Efficient; But It Has Always Been Free”: Idaho Capital Juries After Ring v. Arizona, 39 Idaho L. Rev. 649 (2003).

[11] Id. at 661-62.

[12] Id. at 669-70.

[13] Id. at 688.

William Nardini – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

While New York senators have frequently clashed with the White House over judicial appointments in the state, their neighbors in Connecticut have quietly formed a working relationship that has produced three relatively uncontroversial nominations, including that of William Nardini to the Second Circuit.

Background

William Joseph Nardini was born in Glen Ridge, NJ in 1969.  Nardini received his B.A. summa cum laude from Georgetown University in 1990 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 1994.[1]  After graduating, Nardini clerked for Judge Jose Cabranes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then for Judge Guido Calabresi on the same court.  Nardini then clerked for Judge Sandra Day O’Connor on the U.S. Supreme Court

In 2000, Nardini joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut.[2]  He currently serves as Criminal Chief of the Office.

History of the Seat

Nardini has been nominated for a Connecticut seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.  This seat was vacated by Judge Christopher Droney, who moved to senior status on June 30, 2019.  

In April 2019, Nardini was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in the Second Circuit.[3]  In May 2019, Nardini applied to a selection committee set up by Connecticut Senators Richard Blumenthal and Christopher Murphy (both Democrats).[4]  On July 31, 2019, Nardini interviewed with the White House and with Blumenthal and Murphy, who both decided to back his nomination.  Nardini was nominated in September 2019.

Legal Career

Nardini has primarily worked as a federal prosecutor in Connecticut.  However, Nardini also spent four years on detail with the U.S. Embassy in Rome, where he represented the United States in extradition and mutual legal assistance in Italian criminal matters.[5]  Over the course of his career, Nardini has handled ten jury trials and around 350 appeals before the Second Circuit.

Nardini primarily prosecuted public corruption, organized crime, and racketeering cases.  For example, Nardini prosecuted FBI Agent John Connolly for his corrupt relationships with mobster Whitey Bulger.[6]  Nardini also prosecuted former Connecticut NAACP head Ben Andrews for a corrupt relationship with State Treasurer Paul Silvester.[7]

Nardini also handled terrorism cases, including the prosecution of U.S. Navy sailor Hassan Abu-Jihaad for disclosing national security information to organizations engaging in material support for terrorists.[8]

Political Activity

Nardini has a fairly apolitical background, with his only political experience being support for NJ Assemblyman Joseph A. Mecca, a Democrat, in 1991.[9]

Writings

In 2006, Nardini authored an article discussing the tools that prosecutors can use in prosecuting and undermining organized crime.[10]  In the article, Nardini outlines the various tools prosecutors can use, from subpoenas and warrants to offers of transactional immunity that can encourage witnesses to turn against their superiors in a criminal enterprise.[11]  Nardini suggests that prosecutors can use the tools at their disposal “in concert” with each other to ensure maximum effectiveness to target organized crime.[12]

Overall Assessment

Unlike the last few nominations to the Second Circuit, who have all drawn controversy, Nardini will likely be confirmed relatively easily.  His nonpartisan background and focus on prosecuting organized crime and terrorists make him salable to senators of both parties, and the support of Blumenthal and Murphy won’t hurt.  As such, Nardini’s nomination and likely confirmation is a testament to how smoothly the process can be when all parties work together in good faith.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., William Nardini: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Judge Andy Oldham on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit was a co-clerk of Nardini’s.

[3] See id. at 31.

[4] See id.

[5] Id. at 19.

[6] United States v. Connolly, Criminal No. 99-CR-10428-JLT (D. Mass.).

[7] Larry Neumeister, Lawyer Argues for New Trial for former Connecticut NAACP Head, Associated Press, Sept. 20, 2006.

[8] See United States v. Abu-Jihaad, Criminal No. 3:07-CR-57 (MRK) (D. Conn.).

[9] See Nardini, supra n. 1 at 17.

[10] William J. Nardini, The Prosecutor’s Toolbox, J. Int. Criminal Justice (2006) 4 (3): 528 (July 1, 2006).

[11] See id.

[12] Id. at 536.