Neomi Rao – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit

If the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court was explosive and controversial, the nomination of Neomi Rao to fill his seat on the D.C. Circuit promises to bring some fireworks of its own.  Rao, a scholar of Administrative Law, has already drawn fire for her writings in college, as well as her strong views on civil rights, executive power, and the administrative state.  As such, the confirmation fight over Rao, who would be the first South Asian woman on the federal appellate bench, is bound to leave some scars of its own.

Background

The daughter of Parsi (an Indian Zoroastrian community) doctors, Neomi Jehangir Rao was born in Detroit on March 22, 1973, and raised in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.  Rao graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1995 with a B.A.[1]  Rao then spent two years as a reporter for the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine originally edited by Bill Kristol and Fred Barnes.[2]

Rao then attended the University of Chicago Law School, graduating with a J.D. in 1999.  While in law school, Rao worked as a Law Clerk at the libertarian law firm the Institute of Justice and as a summer associate at Williams & Connolly LLP.[3]

After graduation, and a clerkship with Judge J. Harvie Wilkinson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, Rao joined the Senate Judiciary Committee, working under then Chairman Orrin Hatch as Counsel for Nominations and Constitutional Law.[4]  In 2001, Rao secured a prestigious clerkship with Justice Clarence Thomas, clerking on the Supreme Court alongside future federal judges Gregg Costa,[5] Vince Chhabria,[6] Alison Nathan,[7] and Michelle Friedland.[8]

After her Supreme Court clerkship, Rao joined Clifford Chance in London as an Associate.  In 2005, she returned to Washington to work as Associate Counsel and Special Assistant to President George W. Bush.[9]  In 2006, she left to become a Professor at the George Mason University Law School (later renamed the Antonin Scalia Law School), where she is currently on leave.

Since 2017, Rao has worked as Administrator for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) in the Trump Administration, overseeing regulations that emerge from the various cabinet agencies.

History of the Seat

Rao has been nominated for the seat vacated by now Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  Rao had started discussions with White House Counsel Don McGahn about serving on the D.C. Circuit in August 2018.[10]  Unlike other lower court nominees, Rao had a personal interview with President Trump on October 12, 2018.[11]  Rao was officially nominated on November 13, 2019, and renominated on January 23, 2019.

Political Activity

Rao has made a few political donations in her lifetime, all to Republicans.  In 2004, Rao donated $1000 to the Presidential Campaign of George Bush.[12]  Similarly, in 2008, she gave $500 to Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign, and in 2012, $750 to the Presidential Campaign of Mitt Romney, as well as $250 to Sen. Ted Cruz.[13]  Additionally, Rao has given $1000 to Jeb Bush’s campaign in 2015.[14]

Rao has also volunteered with Lawyers for McCain in 2008 and Lawyers for Romney in 2012.[15]

OIRA

By her own account, Rao has not litigated extensively in the United States.  However, this does not mean that she has no legal experience.  In addition to positions on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in the White House, and at Clifford Chance in London, Rao has served as the head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) since 2017.  OIRA is one of the most powerful governmental bodies as it reviews all the regulations that emerge from the various cabinet departments and oversees their implementations.  An OIRA head can thus, by slowing, speeding, or altering regulations, reshape administrative policy for the Administration.  Past OIRA heads, including Cass Sunstein, have had a significant role in directing administrative policies.

During her tenure as OIRA head, Rao has, by her own account, pursued a “regulatory freedom agenda.”[16]  She has bragged about having taken 176 deregulatory actions, including opening coastal areas in New England to scallop fishing, and having stalled 2253 regulatory actions.[17]  Rao also indicates her support for easing regulations governing self-driving cars and removing federal water regulations under the Clean Water Act.[18]

On the flip side, Rao’s tenure has attracted sharp criticism from watchdog groups, with Patrice Simms of Earthjustice arguing that Rao was “gutting…the Mercury Air Toxics Standards [which] save as many as 11,000 lives every year.”[19]  Simms also argued that Rao was ignoring her responsibilities to ensure that agencies complies with the law in their rulemaking and that most of the rules she approved went on to get struck down by federal judges.[20]

Scholarship

In her role on the faculty at George Mason since 2006, Rao has established herself as a thought leader in the conservative legal movement, advocating for the restrictions on administrative rulemaking, and fighting against the Obama Administration both on regulations and with judicial nominations.

Administrative Law

From 2015 to 2017, Rao served as Director and Founder for the Center for the Study of the Administrate State at George Mason University.  As such, Rao has written extensively on Administrative law, primarily in seeking to restrict the reach of administrative rulemaking.  In one article, Rao states that “by creating the modern administrative state, Congress has marginalized itself.”[21]  In another, Rao argues that Presidential removal authority is essential to ensure political control over independent agencies.[22]

Right to Dignity

In a 2011 article on the Volokh Conspiracy, Rao discusses the differences between government promotions of substantive dignity as opposed to intrinsic dignity.[23]  Specifically, in the article, Rao criticizes government restrictions supporting “substantive dignity,” giving the example of bans on the practice of dwarf tossing (a practice in which dwarves are thrown for sport).[24]  Rao suggests that such bans, alongside bans on the wearing of the burqa, actually hurt intrinsic dignity by denying humans the dignity of choice in their activities.[25]  She also extends these arguments to bans on prostitution or pornography, noting that the bans “represent[] a particular moral view of what dignity requires.”[26]

Rao’s position has been characterized by some as a “defense” of dwarf-tossing and has been criticized as such by Mother Jones Magazine.[27]

Sotomayor Nomination

In 2009, Rao testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee against the confirmation of then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court.[28]  In her testimony, Rao called Sotomayor an “accomplished nominee” but argued that Sotomayor had left open “the question of how a judge chooses to be faithful to the law.”[29]  Rao went on to state her own view of the role of a judge, as someone who “[decides] particular cases through an evenhanded application of the law.”[30]

College Writings

Rao’s writings as a college student have recently come under scrutiny for their occasionally inflammatory language and controversial positions.[31]  Some of her writings on race and affirmative action have been compared to those of Ryan Bounds, whose nomination was ultimately derailed by them.[32]  For example, in one article, Rao criticizes “multiculturalists” for seeking to “separate and classify everyone according to race, gender, and sexual orientation.”[33]  In another piece, Rao decries affirmative action as the “anointed dragon of liberal excess.”[34]  In an article, Rao states that “homosexuals want to redefine marriage and parenthood” and criticizes a Yale magazine for including “pornographic pictures of homosexual couplings.”[35]

Additionally, Rao has been accused on victim-blaming for a piece she wrote on the role of alcohol in date rape.[36]  In the article, Rao comments on the case of a woman who accused a fellow student of sexually assaulting her while she was drunk.[37]  In the piece, Rao notes:

“Unless someone made her drinks undetectably strong or forced them down her throat, a woman, like a man, decides when and how much to drink.  And if she drinks to the point where she can no longer choose, well, getting to that point was part of her choice.”[38]

After initially standing by her statements as “intentionally provocative,” Rao backed down somewhat in her confirmation hearing and suggested that she had matured since her college days.[39]

Overall Assessment

Despite her history making nomination and her obvious academic credentials, Neomi Rao is a controversial nominee.  As tempting as it is to leave the analysis at that, it is worth digging deeper to highlight some of the reasons this is so.

First, Rao’s tenure at OIRA and her prior scholarship are strongly critical of administrative rulemaking.  This is welcome to many conservatives who criticize the “administrative state” as an extraconstitutional behemoth.  However, for those who believe that their air, water, health, welfare, and natural resources are protected by such rulemakings, Rao’s strong views are a cause for concern.  Thus, this is a flashpoint of controversy.

Second, Rao is a strong libertarian who has sharply criticized dignity-based rulemaking as well as affirmative action, multiculturalism, and LGBT advocacy.  This is another flashpoint.

Third, Rao’s college writings have drawn particular fire at a time when consent is discussed strongly.  The fact that she is replacing Kavanaugh, whose nomination was dogged by accusations of sexual assault, is sure to add fuel to the fire.

Finally, Rao is being tapped for the second highest court in the United States, one that, unlike the Supreme Court, leans liberal.  Rao is sure to add a fiercely conservative voice to the DC Circuit, which is the tribunal which hears most challenges to administrative rulemaking.

Add in all these factors and you have a recipe for an explosive mix.  Expect Democrats to strongly criticize Rao and Republicans to equally strongly support her.  Given the Republican majority, her confirmation is therefore expected, but, as the Ryan Bounds case has proven, nothing can be taken for granted.


[1] See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Neomi J. Rao: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] Costa clerked for Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

[6] Chhabria clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer.

[7] Nathan clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens.

[8] Friedland clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

[9] Id.

[10] See id. at 48-49.

[11] See id.

[13] See id.

[14] Id.

[15] See Rao, supra n. 1 at 35.

[16] See Office of Management of Budget, The 2018 Regulatory Reform Report: Cutting the Red Tape; Unleashing Economic Freedom (available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/2018-Unified-Agenda-Cutting-the-Red-Tape.pdf).

[17] See id. 

[18] See id.

[19] Patrice L. Simms, A Lesson in Failure: OIRA, Neomi Rao, and Deregulation At Any Cost, American Constitution Society, ACSBlog, Feb. 4, 2019, https://www.acslaw.org/acsblog/a-lesson-in-failure-oira-neomi-rao-and-deregulation-at-any-cost/.  

[20] See id.

[21] Neomi Rao, Why Congress Matters: The Collective Congress in the Structural Constitution, 70 Fl. L. Rev. 1, 3 (2018).

[22] Neomi Rao, Removal: Necessary and Sufficient for Presidential Control, 65 Ala. L. Rev. 1205 (2014).

[23] Neomi Rao, Substantive Dignity – Dwarf-Throwing, Burqa Bans, and Welfare Rights, Volokh Conspiracy, May 18, 2011, http://volokh.com/2011/05/18/substantive-dignity-dwarf-throwing-burqa-bans-and-welfare-rights/.  

[24] See id.

[25] See id.

[26] Id.

[27] See Stephanie Mencimer, Trump’s Nominee to Replace Kavanaugh is a Staunch Defender of Dwarf-Tossing, Mother Jones, Nov. 16, 2018, https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2018/11/neomi-rao-dwarf-tossing-kavanaugh-replacement/.  

[28] Apprendi v. New Jersey, 530 U.S. 466 (2000).

[29] Neomi Rao, Testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Transcript, July 16, 2009 (available at https://www.c-span.org/video/?287762-106/sotomayor-confirmation-hearing-day-4-legal-scholars-panel).  

[30] Neomi Rao, Symposium: Legal Issues and Sociolegal Consequences of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines: How Apprendi Affects Institutional Allocations of Power, 87 Iowa L. Rev. 465, 470-74 (January 2002).

[31] See, e.g., Zoe Tillman, Trump’s DC Circuit Nominee – And Reported Supreme Court Contender – Wrote Inflammatory Op-Eds in College, BuzzFeed News, Jan. 14, 2019, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/neomi-rao-nomination-college-writings-court-appeals.   

[32] See id.

[33] Neomi M. Rao, How the Diversity Game is Played, Wash. Times, July 17, 1994, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684162/7-17-94-Rao-How-the-Diversity-Game-Is-Played.pdf.   

[34] Neomi Rao, One Writer’s Battles, Weekly Standard, Nov. 10, 1996, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684160/11-10-96-Rao-One-Writers-Battles.pdf.  

[35] See Rao, supra n. 37.

[36] Neomi Rao, Shades of Gray, The Yale Herald, Oct. 14, 1994, https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5684161/10-14-94-Rao-Shades-of-Gray.pdf.  

[37] See id.

[38] See id.

[39] Zoe Tillman, Trump’s DC Circuit Nominee Neomi Rao Distanced Herself From Some of Her Inflammatory College Writings, Buzzfeed News, Feb. 5, 2009, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/zoetillman/neomi-rao-opeds-date-rape-trump-dc-circuit-nominee.  

[40]  Neomi Rao & Richard A. Biershbach, Integrating Remorse and Apology into Criminal Procedure, 114 Yale L.J. 85 (October 2004).

[41] Id. at 144-45.

[42] Neomi Rao, Mercy and Clemency: Forgiveness in Criminal Procedure, 4 Ohio St. J. Crim. L. 329 (Spring 2007).  

Judge Wendy Williams Berger – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida

Judge Wendy Williams Berger is not a stranger to the art of judging, having been a state judge in Florida for the last thirteen years.  Berger, who served as an aide under Gov. Jeb Bush, looks favored to take a lifetime appointment on the Florida federal bench.

Background

Berger was born Wendy Leigh Williams on December 1, 1968 in Athens, Georgia.  Berger graduated cum laude from Florida State University in 1990 and from the Florida State University College of Law in 1992.[1]  After graduating, Berger joined the Office of the State’s Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit in St. Augustine.[2]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Governor Jeb Bush as Assistant General Counsel and a Clemency Aide.[3]  She held that position until she was appointed in 2005 to be a Circuit Judge on the Seventh Judicial Circuit.[4]  In 2012, Gov. Rick Scott elevated Berger to be on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.[5]  She holds that position today.

In 2016, Berger was one of three finalists for an appointment to the Florida Supreme Court to the seat vacated by Justice James Perry.[6]  Scott ultimately chose to elevate Judge C. Alan Lawson, her colleague.

History of the Seat

Berger has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.  This seat opened on June 3, 2015, when Judge John Steele moved to senior status.  On April 28, 2016, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia Barksdale was nominated by President Obama to fill this vacancy.  However, even though Barksdale had the support of both Democratic Senator Bill Nelson and Republican Senator Marco Rubio, the Senate did not take any action on her nomination.

In early 2017, Nelson and Rubio urged Trump to renominate Barksdale and two other unconfirmed Obama picks in Florida.[7]  While Trump renominated one of the candidates, William Jung, Barksdale was not renominated.

In October 2017, Berger applied for the judgeship with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) set up by Nelson and Rubio.[8]  She was interviewed by the JNC and was selected as a finalist in December 2017.[9]  After interviews with Nelson, Rubio, and the White House, Berger was nominated on April 10, 2018.

Legal Experience

Berger started her legal career as a Florida state prosecutor.  In this role, Berger tried approximately 50 trials, ranging from misdemeanors to capital cases.[10]  Notably, Berger prosecuted Tanya Hudson for the death of her baby, successfully obtaining two manslaughter convictions.[11]  For her part, Hudson argued that her baby was stillborn and that she had never intended to kill the child.[12]

In 2001, Berger joined the Office of Gov. Jeb Bush, advising him on legal issues and serving as his clemency aide.  In this role, Berger advised Bush on clemency petitions, monitored death row cases, and prepared death warrants for the Governor’s signature.[13]

Jurisprudence

Berger served as a Circuit Judge for Florida’s Seventh Judicial Circuit from 2005 to 2012, where she handled approximately 200 cases, including around 60 jury verdicts.[14]  Since 2012, Berger has served on the Fifth District Court of Appeal.

In the course of Berger’s time as an appellate judge, she has been reversed by the Florida Supreme Court in approximately 15 cases.[15]  Similarly, Berger has been reversed 17 times during her tenure as a trial judge.[16]  Judging against the panoply of cases she has handled, this means that Berger’s rulings have been reversed in approximately 8-10% of her cases, a slightly higher level of reversal than other nominees profiled on this blog.

Overall Assessment

As Berger has served on the Florida state bench with little controversy over the past thirteen years, there seem to be few barriers to her successful confirmation.  Furthermore, Berger has the support of the Judicial Nominating Commission set up by Rubio and Nelson.  Even as Nelson is no longer in the Senate, this should help Berger gain a comfortable confirmation.  Nevertheless, we may see some questions raised about Berger’s prosecution of Hudson.  Nonetheless, while the Hudson case is controversial, it is unlikely to derail Berger’s confirmation entirely.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong., Wendy Williams Berger: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2]Id. at 2.

[3] See id.

[4] In Brief, Daytona Beach News Journal, Apr. 29, 2005.

[5] Judge Berger Appointed to State Court of Appeal, Florida Times-Union, Aug. 22, 2012.

[6] Frank Fernandez, 2 Judges from Daytona Appeals Court Finalists for State Supreme Court, Daytona Beach News Journal, Nov. 29, 2016.

[7] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio, Nelson Urge Trump on 3 Judges, Florida Times-Union, March 24, 2017.

[8] See Berger supra n. 1 at 61-62.

[9] See id.

[10] See id. at 49.

[11] See Hudson v. State, 745 So. 2d 1014 (Fla. 5th DCA 1999); Hudson v. State, 792 So. 2d 474 (Fla. 5th DCA 2001).

[12] Alexa Jaworski, Convicted Baby Killer Pleads For a New Life: Tanya Hudson Seeks to Overturn Verdict, The Florida Times Union, June 8, 2001, https://www.questia.com/newspaper/1G1-75408721/convicted-baby-killer-pleads-for-a-new-life-tanya.  

[13] See Berger supra n. 1 at 47-48.

[14] Id. at 16.

[15] See, e.g., Burton v. State, 191 So. 3d 543 (Fla. 5th DCA 2016), quashed by Burton v. State, No. SC16-1116, 2018 WL 798521 (Fla. Feb. 9, 2018); Churchill v. State, 169 So. 3d 1260 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 219 So. 3d 13 (Fla. 2017); Florence v. State, 128 So. 3d 198 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Weatherspoon v. State, 214 So. 3d 578 (Fla. 2017); State v. Myers, 169 So. 3d 1227 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015), quashed by 211 So. 3d 962 (Fla. 2017); Worley v. Cent. Fla. Young Men’s Christian Ass’n, 163 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2015); Hilton Hotel Corp. v. Anderson, 153 So. 3d 412 (Fla. 5th DCA 2014), quashed by Anderson v. Hilton Hotel Corp., 202 So. 3d 846 (Fla. 2016).  

[16] See Biller v. State, 109 So. 3d 1240 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013), disapproved by Smith v. State, 204 So. 3d 18 (Fla. 2016); Leatherwood v. State, 108 So. 3d 1154 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013); Lee v. State, 89 So. 3d 290 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); Long v. State, 99 So. 3d 997 (Fla. 5th DCA 2012); McKinnon v. State, 85 So. 3d 1188 (Fla. 5th DCA 2013);  Rose v. State, 68 So. 3d 377 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Wilbur v. State, 64 So. 3d 756 (Fla. 5th DCA 2011); Gonzalez-Ramos v. State, 46 So. 3d 67 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Allen v. State, 43 So. 3d 874 (Fla. 5th DCA 2010); Outin v. State, 12 So. 3d 322 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Eberhardt v. State, 5 So. 3d 783 (Fla. 5th DCA 2009); Helms v. State, 993 So. 2d 1135 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); McCauslin v. State, 985 So. 2d 558 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Lawrence v. State, 991 So. 2d 406 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Sadler v. State, 980 So. 2d 567 (Fla. 5th DCA 2008); Dasher v. State, 956 So. 2d 1209 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007); Infinity Design Builders v. Hutchinson, 964 So. 2d 752 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007).

Eric Miller – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Eric Miller is one of several clerks of Justice Clarence Thomas who are finding their way onto the bench (President Trump has already appointed ten to the federal bench).  Miller faces strong opposition from his home-state senators and from native american groups, which could complicate his path to the bench.

Background

Eric David Miller was born in Oak Park, Illinois, in 1975.  Miller received an A.B. from Harvard University in 1996 and a J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School in 1999.[1]  After graduating from law school, Miller clerked for Judge Laurence Silberman on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then for Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court.[2]

After his clerkships, Miller joined the Department of Justice, starting in the Appellate Staff of the Civil Division, and then shifting to the Office of Legal Counsel, before returning to the Civil Division in 2004.[3]  In 2006, Miller spent a year as Deputy General Counsel for the Federal Communications Commission and then joined the Office of the Solicitor General.[4]

In 2012, Miller left the Solicitor General’s office to join the Seattle office of Perkins Coie LLP as a Partner.  He continues to serve in that role.

History of the Seat

Miller has been nominated for a Washington seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  This seat opened on March 3, 2018 when Judge Richard Tallman moved to senior status.

In August 2017, Miller was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in an appointment to the Ninth Circuit.[5]  In September 2017, Miller interviewed with the White House Counsel’s Office and was formally nominated on July 19, 2018.[6]

Both of Miller’s home state senators, Sen. Patty Murray and Sen. Maria Cantwell, have expressed opposition to Miller’s nomination.[7]

Political Activity & Memberships

Miller has a fairly limited political history, having donated $1000 each to Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers in 2014-15.[8]

Furthermore, Miller has been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies (a conservative legal organization that is the source of many Trump nominees) for various stretches, most recently in 2017.[9]

Legal Experience

Miller’s post-clerkship career can be organized into three chunks for analysis.  First, from 2001 to 2006, Miller worked in various capacities at the Department of Justice.  Then, from 2007 to 2012, Miller worked at the Solicitor General’s Office.  Finally, from 2012 to the present, Miller has been a Partner in the Seattle Office of Perkins Coie.

Department of Justice

From 2001 to 2006, Miller worked in the Department of Justice, serving in the appellate staff of the Civil Division from 2001 to 2003 and from 2004 to 2006.  From 2003 to 2004, Miller worked in the Office of Legal Counsel, his tenure coinciding with OLC head Jack Goldsmith, who clashed with the White House over the previous OLC memorandum that authorized enhanced interrogation techniques.

Solicitor General

From 2007 to 2012, Miller served as Assistant to the Solicitor General, working under six Solicitors General in the Bush and Obama Administration.  During this time, Miller argued 14 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the federal government and filed briefs in dozens of others.[10]  Of the cases Miller argued, the position he took prevailed in nine.[11]  Interestingly, Miller lost cases during this time to two future court of appeals judges: Judge Sri Srinivasan[12] and Judge Stephanos Bibas.[13]

Perkins Coie

Since 2012, Miller has been a Partner in the Seattle Office of Perkins Coie working in the appellate practice group.  During Miller’s tenure, he argued an additional two cases before the Supreme Court, both focusing on the issue of the sovereign immunity accorded to Indian tribes.  In the first, Miller prevailed before a unanimous Supreme Court in arguing that tribal sovereign immunity did not bar a suit against a member of the tribe in his individual capacity.[14]  In the second, Miller defended a Washington Supreme Court decision holding that sovereign immunity did not constitute a bar to a land suit and judgment where the court was seeking to exercise in rem jurisdiction.[15]  This time, Miller lost on a 7-2 vote with only Justices Thomas and Alito voting for his position.[16]

Writings

As a law student, Miller authored an article discussing the federal statute dictating Miranda warnings to criminal defendants.[17]  The statute in question, 18 U.S.C. § 3501, was enacted shortly after the landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona, and sought to overrule the Supreme Court decision in federal criminal cases.[18]  However, in the next three decades, the Supreme Court did not consider the validity of the statute, which was never invoked by the Department of Justice.[19]

In his article, Miller argues that the Supreme Court should consider the constitutionality of the statute sua sponte, and that it was often appropriate for judges to raise issues not raised by the parties, including in cases involving the court’s jurisdiction, the application of judicial restraint, or a court frustration with the way parties have characterized the legal issues in the case.[20]  Miller argues that § 3501 clearly lays out rules for the admissibility of confessions, rules that the court should not ignore just because the parties agree that it should.[21]  Miller does not focus on the article on the constitutionality of § 3501, which was later struck down by the Supreme Court in Dickerson v. United States.[22]

Overall Assessment

Given his extensive appellate practice, it is easy to agree that Miller is qualified for a seat on the Ninth Circuit.  The American Bar Association agreed, giving him a unanimous Well Qualified rating.[23]  However, Miller’s path to confirmation may be complicated by the opposition of home state senators and that of Indian tribes.[24]  The latter argue that Miller has focused his private practice on seeking to cut down the sovereignty of Indian tribes.  Such arguments may be particularly persuasive to senators with large populations affected by such decisions.

As noted earlier, the Ninth Circuit has a (somewhat undeserved) reputation as an overly liberal court, and has attracted the President’s scorn for some of its rulings.  If Miller is confirmed, he will likely add a conservative voice to the court.  Furthermore, based on his law school writings, one could also argue that Miller would not be hesitant to exercise judicial power in raising issues not addressed by the parties where he believed the issues to be paramount to the case.  As such, one could expect Miller to be a more assertive voice on the court than the more circumspect judge he replaces.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Miller, supra n. 1 at 42.

[6] Press Release, White House, President Donald J. Trump Announces Sixteenth Wave of Judicial nominees, Sixteenth Wave of United States Attorney Nominees, and Eleventh Wave of United States Marshall Nominees (July 13, 2018) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office).

[7] Agueda Pacheco-Flores, Cantwell and Murray Object to Process for Filling Federal Appeals Court Seat, Seattle Times, Oct. 23, 2018, https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/cantwell-and-murray-object-to-process-for-filling-federal-appeals-court-seat/.  

[9] See Miller, supra n. 1 at 5.

[10] See id. at 18-23.

[11] See Astrue v. Capato, 566 U.S. 541 (2012); Talk Am. v. Michigan Bell Tell Co., 564 U.S. 50 (2011); Staub v. Proctor Hosp., 562 U.S. 411 (2011); United States v. Marcus, 560 U.S. 258 (2010); NRG Power Marketing, LLC v. Maine Pub. Util. Comm’n, 558 U.S. 165 (2010); Forest Grove Sch. Dist. v. T.A., 557 U.S. 230 (2009); Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396 (2009); Bridge v. Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co., 553 U.S. 639 (2008); Knight v. Comm’r of Int’l Rev., 552 U.S. 181 (2008).

[12] Abuelhawa v. United States, 556 U.S. 816 (2009).

[13] See Vartelas v. Holder, 566 U.S. 257 (2012).

[14] Lewis v. Clarke, 137 S.Ct. 1285 (2017).

[15] Upper Skagit Indian Tribe v. Lundgren, 138 S.Ct. 1649 (2018).

[16] See id.

[17] Eric D. Miller, Should Courts Consider 18 U.S.C. 3501 Sua Sponte?, 65 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1029 (Summer 1998).

[18] See id. at 1031-32.

[19] Id. at 1033-38.

[20] Id. at 1039.

[21] Id. at 1052.

[22] 530 U.S. 428 (2000).

[23] See American Bar Association, Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/GAO/Web%20rating%20Chart%20Trump%20115.pdf (last visited Jan. 31, 2019).

[24] See, e.g., John Echohawk, Eric Miller on the Ninth Circuit? Time for a More Suitable Candidate, Indian Country Today, Sept. 10, 2018, https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/opinion/eric-miller-on-the-ninth-circuit-time-for-a-more-suitable-candidate-ra4MF3aidUKNy_9AXVc3cQ/.  

Judge T. Kent Wetherell – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida

A nonpartisan jurist with close ties to Florida Democrats, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell looks fairly likely to receive a bipartisan confirmation to the federal bench.

Background

The son of former Florida State House Speaker T. Kent Wetherell, Judge Thomas Kent Wetherell II was born in Daytona Beach on August 26, 1970.  When Wetherell was ten, his father was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, where he would serve for twelve years, the last two as speaker.  For his part, Wetherell graduated magna cum laude from Florida State University and with High Honors from Florida State University College of Law.[1]

After graduating, Wetherell joined Hopping Green Sams & Smith in Tallahassee as an Associate.  Four years later, he joined the Florida Attorney General’s Office under Democrat Bob Butterworth as Deputy Solicitor General.[2]

In 2002, Wetherell became an Administrative Law Judge with the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.[3]  In 2009, Gov. Charlie Crist appointed him to be a Judge on the First District Court of Appeal, where he serves to this day.

History of the Seat

The seat Wetherell has been nominated for opened on Dec. 31, 2015, with Judge John Smoak’s move to senior status.  Florida Senators Bill Nelson, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, continued the use of a Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) to solicit recommendations for vacancies.  Acting on the recommendations of the JNC, President Obama nominated Philip Lammens, a magistrate judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida, to fill the vacancy.[4]  However, even though Lammens had the support of both Nelson and Rubio, he never received a hearing in the 114th Congress and his nomination was returned unconfirmed upon the election of Donald Trump.

In early 2017, Rubio and Nelson jointly recommended that Trump renominate Lammens and two other unsuccessful Obama nominees.[5]  However, while one of the other picks, William Jung, was renominated, Lammens was not.  Meanwhile, the JNC recommended Wetherell for the Northern District alongside three other candidates on November 16, 2017.[6]  Wetherell was nominated alongside another finalist, Judge Allen Winsor.[7]

Legal Experience

Wetherell started his career at the Tallahassee firm of Hopping Green Sams & Smith, where he practiced land use law, mostly representing developers seeking municipal approval.  He also worked as a lobbyist, handling matters related to the Administrative Procedure Act and the motor vehicle lemon law.

From 1999 to 2002, Wetherell served as Deputy Solicitor General under the newly created Solicitor General’s Office.  In this capacity, Wetherell handled appeals on behalf of the state, but also participated in trial efforts seeking to shield media attention from Dale Earnhart’s autopsy photos.[8]

Jurisprudence

Wetherell has served as a judge since 2002, serving as an Administrative Judge for seven years, and as a judge on the First District Court of Appeal for the last nine years.  In the former position, Wetherell handled licensing, permitting, and discrimination claims on an administrative level.  In the latter, Wetherell heard civil and criminal appeals from the Florida Circuit Courts.  During his time as an appellate judge, Wetherell heard approximately 6500 cases.[9]  Of these cases, Wetherell has been reversed three times.

In the first matter where Wetherell was reversed, he ruled that legislators were protected from being deposed in challenges to congressional reapportionment by legislative immunity.[10]  The Florida Supreme Court reversed over a dissent by Justice Charles Canady, finding that legislative privilege did not apply in the matter as legislative intent was essential for the lawsuit.[11]  In the second, Wetherell upheld an agency determination that the City of Miami could unilaterally modify a collective bargaining agreement with the police under the “financial urgency statute,” and the Florida Supreme Court reversed.[12]  In the third, the Florida Supreme Court reversed Wetherell’s ruling upholding a defendant’s convictions for use of a computer to solicit a minor and traveling to meet a minor.[13]

Political Activity

Wetherell has a fairly limited political history, including campaigning for his father in his state house campaigns.  For his own part, Wetherell has just one contribution of record, to Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Democrat-turned-Republican.[14]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Wetherell looks to be set for a comfortable confirmation.  His record shows little that is controversial and he is the product of a well-respected bipartisan commission.  Furthermore, given his ties to Florida Democrats including his father, Crist, and Butterworth, it is unlikely that he will draw strong opposition.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., T. Kent Wetherell II: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id. 

[4] Press Release, President Obama Nominates Eight to Serve on United States District Courts (Apr. 28, 2016) (on file at https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/).

[5] Andrew Pantazi, Rubio and Nelson Ask Trump to Keep Judicial Picks They Sent to Obama, Florida Times-Union, Mar. 23, 2017, https://www.jacksonville.com/news/national/2017-03-23/rubio-and-nelson-ask-trump-keep-judicial-picks-they-sent-obama.  

[6] Alex Leary, Finalists Named for Federal Bench in Northern District of Florida, The Buzz, Nov. 16, 2017, http://www.tbo.com/florida-politics/buzz/2017/11/16/finalists-named-for-federal-bench-in-northern-district-of-florida/.  

[7] Press Release, President Donald J. Trump Announces Thirteenth Wave of Judicial Nominees, and Seventh Wave of United States Marshal Nominees (April 26, 2018) (on file at www.whitehouse.gov/thepressoffice).

[8] See Wetherell, supra n.1 at 37.

[9] Id. at 16-17.

[10] Fla. House of Representatives v. Romo, 113 So. 3d 117 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).

[11] League of Women Voters of Florida v. Fla. House of Representatives, 132 So. 3d 135 (Fla. 2013).

[12] Headley v. City of Miami, 118 So. 3d 885 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013), quashed, 215 So. 3d 1 (Fla. 2017).

[13] Griffis v. State, 133 So. 3d 650 (Fla. 1st DCA 2014), quashed, 2016 WL 1664979 (Fla. Apr. 27, 2016).

Paul Matey – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

After Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley’s reversal on blue slips, he has held hearings for nine nominees that lack blue slips from one or both home-state senators.  Of those, four have been confirmed on the floor and one has been rejected, the rest, including Paul Matey of New Jersey were blocked from a final vote by then-Sen. Jeff Flake’s objections.  In the new Congress without Flake, he remains a favorite to be confirmed.

Background

Paul Brian Matey was born in Edison, New Jersey on March 29, 1971.  Matey attended Scranton University and then spent four years working for Marvel Entertainment in New York City.[1]

In 1997, Matey joined Seton Hall University School of Law, graduating summa cum laude in 2001.[2]  Matey then clerked for Judge John Lifland on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey and for Judge Robert Cowen on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit (Matey has been nominated for the seat that Cowen once held).

After his clerkships, Matey joined Kellogg, Hansen, Todd, Figel & Frederick LLC as an associate.  In 2005, Matey joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, working under U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.[3]  When Christie was elected Governor in 2009, Matey joined the Governor’s Office as Assistant Counsel.  He later was elevated to be Senior Counsel and Deputy Chief Counsel.

In 2015, Matey was hired to be General Counsel for University Hospital in Newark.[4]  He left this position in 2018 to become a Partner with Lowenstein Sandler LLP, where he works today.

History of the Seat

Matey has been nominated for a New Jersey seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit vacated by Judge Julio Fuentes.  Fuentes, a Democrat who was appointed by President Bill Clinton, moved to senior status on July 18, 2016.  As the vacancy opened up relatively late in the Obama Administration, no nominee was put forward to fill the seat.

Shortly after Trump’s election, Christie reached out to the Administration to recommend Matey for the Third Circuit.[5]  In August 2017, news outlets reported that New Jersey’s Democratic Senators, Robert Menendez and Cory Booker, had agreed to sign off on Matey in return for the nominations of Democrats to fill District Court vacancies.[6]  However, the deal never materialized and Matey wasn’t nominated until April 2018.  To date, no district court nominees have been put forward for New Jersey vacancies and Menendez and Booker has not returned blue slips on Matey.

Political Activity

As noted above, Matey worked for Christie when he served as Governor of New Jersey.  In addition, Matey’s only contribution of record is for Christie.[7]  Matey has also been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy since 2001 and a member of the Republican National Lawyers Association since 2005.[8]

Legal Experience

While Matey started his legal career as an Associate at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans, and Figel PLLC in Washington D.C.[9], he is most known for his later positions with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, working for Gov. Chris Christie, as well as his time with University Hospital.

From 2005 to 2009, Matey worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney under then-U.S. Attorney Chris Christie.  In this role, Matey worked primarily to prosecute complex white collar crimes, securities fraud, and healthcare fraud.  Matey also handled pornography cases.[10]

In 2010, when Christie was elected to be Governor of New Jersey, Matey joined his office to be Assistant Counsel, later becoming Senior Counsel and Deputy Chief Counsel.  In this role, Matey analyzed legislation, executive orders, and regulations, and gave legal advice to Christie.  Notably, Matey was Deputy Chief Counsel during the Bridgegate Scandal, when officials in the Christie Administration closed down much of George Washington bridge as political retribution against the mayor of Fort Lee.[11]  Matey was one of two officials who ultimately fired Bridget Anne Kelly, the individual who had authorized the lane closures.[12]

From 2015 to 2018, Matey worked as General Counsel for University Hospital in Newark.  Matey’s tenure has already been criticized by Sen. Cory Booker, who noted that patient safety ratings at the Hospital dropped from C to F during his time there.[13]

Writings and Speeches

While not an academic, Matey has written and elaborated on the law.  Much of his work is descriptive rather than normative.  For example, Matey authored an article explaining a recent New Jersey Supreme Court decision regarding the statute of limitations as it relates to toxic tort actions.[14]  Notably, in 2005, Matey co-authored a paper with Justice Neil Gorsuch criticizing securities class actions for creating “vast social costs.”[15]  In another 2003 paper, Matey argued that the First Amendment rights of network broadcasters should be evaluated based on the “market power of the broadcast content.”[16]  Matey argues that this approach would limit government regulation of the First Amendment rights of broadcasters with regard to areas such as Presidential Debates.[17]

Overall Assessment

Matey’s nomination has advanced, so far, without the support of New Jersey Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker.  Under the new blue slip regime, however, the lack of such support is not fatal.  That being said, Matey is still likely to face strong opposition based on his conservative judicial views, membership in the Federalist Society, and close associations to Christie.

Specifically, some may argue that Matey was handpicked over other better-qualified candidates due to his close association with Christie.  The ABA, notably, gave Matey a middling Qualified/Not Qualified rating.[18]

However, with a narrow Republican majority, Matey remains a favorite to be confirmed.  At this point, it would take four Republican defections to kill Matey’s nomination, a tall order as only one Trump nominee has seen that many defections on the floor, and those defections were from the right.  As such, it is likely that Matey will be confirmed in short order.


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

[2] See id.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] See id. 

[5] See id. at 27-28.

[6] Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari, Trump Poised to Nominate Christie Ally for U.S. Attorney in Complex Political Deal, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 10, 2017, http://www2.philly.com/philly/news/politics/presidential/trump-poised-to-nominate-christie-ally-for-u-s-attorney-post-20170810.html.  

[7] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=paul+matey&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited Nov. 10, 2018).

[8] See Matey, supra n. 1 at 5.

[9] During his time at Kellogg, Matey did have a chance to work with then-partner Neil Gorsuch.

[10] See, e.g., United States v. Valenzuela, 07-CR-00412 (N.J. 2007); United States v. Adams, 07-CR-00859 (N.J. 2007).

[11] See Matt Katz, Exclusive: Inside Bridgegate, New Jersey Monthly, Jan. 18, 2016, https://njmonthly.com/articles/jersey-living/exclusive-inside-bridgegate/.  

[12] Id. 

[13] See Twitter, @CoryBooker, Nov. 13, 2018, https://twitter.com/corybooker/status/1062474801560895493?lang=en.  

[14] Paul B. Matey, Surveys of Recent Developments in New Jersey Law – Torts: The Discovery Rule, 30 Seton Hall L. Rev. 101 (2003).

[15] Neil Gorsuch and Paul Matey, Settlements in Securities Fraud Class Actions: Improving Investor Protection, Wash. Legal Found., Working Paper No. 128, 2005. 

[16] Paul B. Matey, Abundant Media, Viewer Scarcity: A Marketplace Alternative to First Amendment Broadcast Rights and the Regulation of Televised Presidential Debates, 36 Ind. L. Rev. 101, 102 (2003).

[17] Id. at 137.

Judging the 2020 Contenders – The Others

Is it too soon to start a conversation about 2020?  Perhaps no other election, with the exception of 2016, is poised to have a greater effect on our federal bench.  The re-election of President Trump would allow him four more years of filling the bench with young conservatives, while the election of a Democratic president would stall that trend.  For many progressives, however, what they want is not a pause in the appointment of conservative judges but rather an active effort to move the federal bench in a liberal direction.  As such, let us look at the leading (and lagging) contenders for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and what their records on judges are.

We previously looked at the 2020 candidates who have experience as governors and as senators.  Today we look at those who do not fall into either camp.  Obviously, it is difficult to build up a record on judicial matters if you have neither appointed judges nor voted on them.  Nevertheless, we look at the remaining contenders and their public stances (if any) on judicial matters.  Most, if not all, of the contenders in this category have not spoken out on judges and have a thin record on this front.

Stacey Abrams

Abrams, a Georgia state legislative leader who narrowly lost the 2018 gubernatorial election in the state, is, funnily enough, the sister of a federal judge, Judge Leslie Abrams of the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Georgia.  Regarding other nominations, Abrams came out against the nomination of Thomas Farr in December, which ultimately fell short of a vote.

Michael Bloomberg

Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is currently planning a run for President in 2020, either as a Democrat or as an Independent.  Unlike other candidates in this category, Bloomberg had the opportunity to appoint judges, namely, municipal judges to the New York City Criminal Court, Civil Court and the Family Court.  However, Bloomberg’s appointments to these courts have made few waves and do not reveal much about his judicial views.

Outside of his role as mayor, Bloomberg is primarily known for his advocacy on gun control, as well as his support for the New York stop and frisk policy.

Pete Buttigieg

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is the youngest candidate in the 2020 Presidential race, and is the only openly gay candidate.  However, Buttigieg’s largely local pedigree has left him little room to develop positions on judicial issues, and he has been silent on such issues since announcing.

Julian Castro

Julian Castro is the only Hispanic candidate who has currently announced a bid for President, and, with experience leading San Antonio, one of the Nation’s largest cities, and heading the Department of Housing and Urban Development, he has the experience in an executive role.

That being said, Castro has been virtually invisible on the issue of judges, with virtually no formal statements on the issue.

John Delaney

Former Maryland Congressman John Delaney was the first major Democrat to announce for the 2020 Presidential camapign.  Despite fairly detailed positions on many major issues, Delaney has largely been silent on judicial issues, with no mention of judicial nominations on his campaign site.

Tulsi Gabbard

Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is, perhaps, one of the most polarizing candidates in the 2020 race. On one side, Gabbard is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and was one of the strongest supporters for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign in 2016.  On the other, she has been criticized for her lack of support on LGBT issues, and her demagoguery on such issues in the past.

Particularly notoriously, Gabbard wrote an op-ed criticizing Democratic Senators (including fellow Presidential candidate Kamala Harris) for probing judicial nominee Brian Buescher over his membership in the Knights of Columbus, arguing that their questions constituted religious bias.  While Gabbard did note that she herself opposed Buscher’s nomination, her position nonetheless brought pushback from fellow Hawaii Democrats.

Richard Ojeda

The former West Virginia State Senator and unsuccessful Congressional candidate does not have a section on judges on his Presidential campaign website.

Beto O’Rourke

Former Congressman Beto O’Rourke ran a surprisingly strong Senate campaign in 2018, falling just narrowly short of Sen. Ted Cruz despite running in strongly Republican Texas.  During the campaign, O’Rourke opined on the pending Kavanaugh nomination, wishing that there had been more focus on Kavanaugh’s judicial positions during the confirmation battle.  O’Rourke has said little about Trump’s other judicial nominations, however, including many appointed to Texas courts.  Interestingly, O’Rourke’s strong campaign nonetheless propelled many Texas judicial candidates to victory, flipping many courts across the state to Democrats.

Tim Ryan

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan has been planning a run for President since mid-2018, even as he led an aborted coup against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  While Ryan has made a name for himself as a Pelosi opponent, he has been largely invisible on the issue of judicial nominations, although he did issue a statement opposing the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh.

Eric Swalwell

Swalwell has served in the U.S. House since his election in 2012 and currently serves on the House Judiciary Committee (which, unlike its senate counterpart, has no role in judicial confirmations).  In 2018, Swalwell came out strongly against the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Nominees Left Out

Updated on January 23, 2019 at 3:24 PM

When the 115th Congress adjourned, it sent 73 judicial nominees back to the President.  Yesterday, President Trump announced his intention to renominate 50 of them (as well as one nominee to the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review).  This leaves 23 nominees not on the initial list and still in limbo.  Zoe Tillman at Buzzfeed has a great rundown of the nominees sent back to the Senate.  Today, we look at the 23 who were not.

Out of the 23, 16 come from just three states: New York; California; and Illinois.  Each of these states has two Democratic Senators, and, more importantly, Senators with prominent positions in the Democratic Party.  As such, one could argue that the blocking of these renominations are intended to add pressure to Democrats during the government shutdown.  However, I would argue that the truth is more complicated.

Let’s start with California, which has two senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris, on the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Both were strong opponents of Justice Brett Kavanaugh.  There were six California nominees pending that were not renominated: Patrick Bumatay, Dan Collins, and Kenneth Lee to the Ninth Circuit; and Stanley Blumenfeld, Jeremy Rosen, and  Mark Scarsi for the Central District of California.  This batch was submitted relatively late in 2018, and did not have the support of California’s home-state senators.  Since that point, White House Counsel Don McGahn has departed and has been replaced with Pat Cippolone, and, by all accounts, negotiations between the White House and California senators are back on.  As such, not renominating the California nominees can be seen as an optimistic sign.  Of course, some, if not all, of the six will ultimately make it to the bench, either as part of a package, or, if negotiations fail, individually.

The situation in New York is more complicated.  New York Senator Chuck Schumer leads the Senate Democratic Caucus and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has presidential ambitions.  Nevertheless, they managed to work with the White House to put together a seven-judge package of nominees last year.  These nominees, including three Democrats and four Republicans, have not been renominated.  At the same time, the White House has renominated four other New York nominees: Judge Joseph Bianco and Michael Park for the Second Circuit; Thomas Marcelle for the Northern District of New York, and Philip Halpern for the Southern District of New York.  It is unclear why the White House has declined to put forward a group of nominees who were passed out of the Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support, although one can speculate that it is intended as a slight to Schumer.

Finally, we come to perhaps the most surprising omission, Illinois.  Illinois Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth established a productive relationship with the White House on judicial nominations, resulting in the smooth confirmations of Michael Scudder and Judge Amy St. Eve to the Seventh Circuit (the only appellate nominations during the Trump Administration to receive unanimous support).  They also put together a package of three district court nominees: conservatives Martha Pacold and Steven Seeger; and liberal Mary Rowland.  None of the three have been renominated.  Of course, given the number of vacancies on the federal bench in Illinois, it is possible that the three will be wrapped into a larger package of nominees.

Stepping away from these three states, you have an additional seven who have not been renominated.  Two of these, Mary McElroy of Rhode Island and Judge Stephanie Gallagher of Maryland, were nominees originally chosen by President Obama and renominated by President Trump with Democratic support.  I think the Administration is hoping, supported by a new Judiciary Chair, to renegotiate these picks and try to find nominees with more conservative records.  (The Trump Administration did renominate Judge John Milton Younge so it’s not that all Democratic picks were left off the list)

The remaining five are nominees who would likely face a difficult journey to confirmation.  This includes Jon Katchen, who withdrew his nomination late last year in the face of strong opposition from the Alaska Bar, Gordon Giampietro, who has been blue-slipped by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Thomas Farr, whose expected confirmation fizzled last year after opposition from Sen. Tim Scott.  Farr is perhaps the most notable of the three, as Sen. Thom Tillis has still been advocating for his renomination.  Regardless, withdrawing Farr is a no-brainer for the White House.  The sixty-four year old nominee can easily be replaced with a judge just as conservative and two decades younger.

The last two are the most interesting and surprising.  FTC Commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen was not renominated to the Court of Federal Claims.  While Ohlhausen did face strong Democratic opposition from the Senate Judiciary Committee, so did fellow nominee Ryan Holte (Holte was renominated).  As such, I’m inclined to think that Ohlhausen may have asked for her nomination to be withdrawn.  (UPDATE: An individual familiar with the judicial confirmation process has confirmed that Ohlhausen withdrew her nomination.)   Finally, there is John O’Connor, nominated to a district court seat in Oklahoma.  O’Connor was rated Unqualified by a unanimous panel of the American Bar Association, who cited his lackluster legal career, and noted ethical issues.  It is hard to believe that the ABA rating was the sole factor in blocking O’Connor given that other nominees have soldiered on past such a rating and been confirmed.  Given that the allegations against O’Connor were presumably examined during the White House vetting process, the lack of a renomination is surprising.

Overall, some, if not all, of these 23 picks, could still be renominated.  However, their exclusion from the initial list clearly makes a point: the Administration is continuing to move deliberately with regard to judicial nominations, and the area is still a priority for them.  As such, we’re in for an interesting Congress.