Judge Robert Wier – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky

As the senior senator from Kentucky and the most powerful Republican in the Senate, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has had tremendous influence over the federal bench of his home state.  Since 1985, McConnell has recommended numerous judges to the federal bench, almost all of them conservative and very young.  While the average age of appointees to the federal bench is 50-52, the ten Kentucky judges appointed by Republican presidents since McConnell joined the senate have an average age of just 43.  At 50, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Wier is a more conventional nominee than McConnell’s usual recommendations.


Robert Earl Wier was born in Harlan, KY in 1967.  After getting a B.A. with High Distinction from the University of Kentucky in 1989, Wier stayed and received a J.D. with High Distinction from the University of Kentucky Law School in 1992.  After his graduation, Wier served as a law clerk to Sixth Circuit Judge Eugene Siler.

In 1993, Wier joined the Lexington Law Firm Stoll, Keenon & Park LLP. as an associate.  Two years later, he co-founded the firm Ransdall & Wier, PLLC. as a partner.  After ten years at the firm, in 2006, Wier was tapped to be a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.  He currently serves in that capacity.

In 2006, Wier contacted McConnell to express his interest in a federal judicial appointment.[1]  The appointment ultimately went to then-U.S. Attorney (and current Sixth Circuit Judge) Amul Thapar.

History of the Seat

Wier has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.  This seat opened on May 25, 2017, when Judge Amul Thapar was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  Wier had maintained contact with McConnell and Senator Rand Paul through the Obama Administration regarding Kentucky federal judicial vacancies.[2]  He interviewed with McConnell’s staff in late 2016 and with McConnell in early 2017.  Wier interviewed with the White House and Department of Justice on Feb. 23, 2017.[3]  He was nominated on August 3, 2017.

Legal Experience

Wier has practiced as an attorney in two different positions.  First, after finishing his clerkship, Wier worked at Stoll, Keenon & Park, LLP. as an associate in their commercial litigation group.  In this position, which he held for two years, Wier represented businesses in pre-trial matters.  Second, from 1996 to 2006, Wier worked at Ransdall & Wier, P.C., a firm he founded and managed.

At Ransdall & Wier, P.C., Wier represented both businesses and individuals in commercial and employment cases.[4]  Among his more notable cases, Wier represented a plaintiff in establishing a cause of action for negligent hiring in Kentucky.[5]


Wier has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since 2006.  In this capacity, Wier has handled approximately 400 misdemeanor and civil cases that have proceeded to judgment, including approximately 200 jury trials.[6]  Among the more prominent cases that Wier has handled, he presided over the first extradition proceeding based on war crimes charges in the Eastern District of Kentucky,[7] and the discovery proceedings over a massive gender discrimination case brought against Wal-Mart.[8]  In another notable case, Wier found that compelling an Amish defendant to pose for a photograph in violation of his religious beliefs would violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).[9]


In his Senate Judiciary Questionnaire, Wier notes ten cases where his recommendations or rulings were reversed by the district court or by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[10]  Among these cases, the more substantive reversals generally fall into two categories: motions to suppress evidence under the Fourth Amendment; and motions for resentencing under 28 U.S.C. §2255.

Motions to Suppress

Wier has been reversed by the Sixth Circuit twice on motions to suppress.  In one case, upon Wier’s recommendation, Judge Danny Reeves denied a defendant’s motion to suppress cocaine and a firearm found in the passenger compartment of his vehicle.[11]  The Sixth Circuit, in a unanimous opinion by Judge Raymond Kethledge, reversed, finding that the Supreme Court’s intervening decision in Arizona v. Gant rendered the search unconstitutional.[12]  In another case, Reeves denied a motion to suppress, relying on Wier’s finding that the good-faith exception prevented suppression of child pornography found through a search lacking probable cause.[13]  The Sixth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Alice Batchelder, reversed, finding that the good-faith exception did not apply.[14]

§2255 Motions

§2255 of Title 28 of the U.S. Code allows prisoners to collaterally challenge sentences that violate the Constitution, statutes, or are improperly decided.  Of the many §2255 rulings that Wier has made, a handful have been rejected by a district judge or the Sixth Circuit.  Notably, the Sixth Circuit reversed Reeves’ denial, upon Wier’s recommendation, of a §2255 motion involving interrelated sentences.[15]  In another case, Wier recommended that a prisoner originally sentenced under the Armed Career Criminal Act be resentenced, only to have his recommended rejected by Reeves.[16]

Political Activity

Wier has a relatively limited political history.  In 1997, Wier donated $200 to the Jonathan Scott Miller, a Democrat running for Kentucky State Treasurer (Miller was ultimately elected and served until 2007 as Treasurer).[19]  In 2003 and 2004, Wier served as Treasurer on the Campaign of former Kentucky State Senator Tim Philpot, a Republican, who was running to retain his appointed seat on the Fayette County Circuit Court.[20][21]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Wier is unlikely to attract major opposition.  He has a fairly non-controversial record of jurisprudence, and a long tenure as a U.S. Magistrate Judge.  Furthermore, he has a powerful advocate on his side.  No Kentycky judge recommended by McConnell has ever lost a vote for confirmation.  The streak is unlikely to end with Wier.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 46.

[2] See id.

[3] See id.

[4] See id. at 35-36.

[5] Oakley v. Flor-Shin, Inc., 964 S.W.2d 438 (Ky. App. 1998).

[6] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 9-10.

[7] United States v. Basic, No. 5:11-MJ-05002-REW, 2012 WL 3067466 (E.D. Ky. July 27, 2012).

[8] EEOC v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., No. 6:01-CV-339-KKC.

[9] United States v. Girod, 159 F. Supp. 3d 773, 784 (E.D. Ky. 2015).

[10] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 27-28.

[11] United States v. Lopez, No. 6:06-120-DCR, 2006 WL 3827468 (E.D. Ky Dec. 27, 2006).

[12] United States v. Lopez, 567 F.3d 755 (6th Cir. 2009).

[13] United States v. Hodson, No. 6:06-CR-117-DCR (E.D. Ky Dec. 13, 2006).

[14] U.S. v. Hodson, 543 F.3d 286 (6th Cir. 2008).

[15] Maxwell v. United States, 617 F. App’x 470 (6th Cir. 2015).

[16] United States v. Potter, No. 7:03-21-DCR, 2016 WL 6135433 (E.D. Ky Oct. 20, 2016).

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=robert+wier&order=desc&sort=D (last visited Jan. 1, 2018).

[20] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Robert E. Wier: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 46.

[21] Philpot, a social conservative, later came under fire for anti-same sex marriage comments that some interpreted to be homophobic.  See Andrew Wolfson, Family Judge: Gay Marriage Like “Jumbo Shrimp”, Louisville Courier Journal, Sept. 21, 2016, https://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/local/2016/09/21/family-judge-gay-marriage-like-jumbo-shrimp/90729048/.  

Claria Horn Boom – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky & the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky

Claria Horn Boom has a relatively low profile for a federal judicial candidate.  Unlike other nominees put forward by the Trump Administration, Horn Boom hasn’t written extensively on her judicial philosophy, participated in the conservative legal movement, or built a strong litigation record.  In a confirmation process often marred by controversy, Horn Boom’s lack of a paper trail may serve her well.  However, it makes it difficult for litigants to anticipate the type of judge she will be.


A native Kentuckyian, Horn Boom grew up in a Republican family in a small town in East Kentucky, where her mother served as county clerk for Martin County.[1]  Horn Boom attended Transylvania University in Lexington, graduating summa cum laude in 1991.  Horn Boom then attended Vanderbilt University Law School, graduating in 1994 with the Order of the Coif.  Horn Boom went on to clerk for Judge Pierce Lively on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.

In 1995, Horn Boom joined the Atlanta office of King & Spalding, focusing on product liability and tort cases.  In 1998, Horn Boom returned to Kentucky as a federal prosecutor, focusing on the prosecution of financial crimes.  In 2005, Horn Boom became the first executive director of the Kentucky Equine Education Project, which advocates for the horse industry.[2]

In 2006, Horn Boom joined the Lexington office of Frost, Brown, Todd LLC., one of the largest midwestern law firms.  As a partner, Horn Boom focuses on advising businesses and financial institutions on matters, including real estate, regulations and litigation.

History of the Seat

Horn Boom has been nominated to a shared seat for the U.S. District Courts for the Eastern District of Kentucky and the Western District of Kentucky.  This seat opened on January 8, 2013, with the retirement of Clinton appointee Judge Jennifer Coffman.  While Coffman’s retirement was announced in 2012,[3] President Obama never sent a nominee to the Senate for the vacancy.  While the exact reason for the nominee is unclear, it is likely that Obama was unable to agree on a nominee with Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul.  The Obama Administration did vet Courtney Baxter, a commonwealth’s attorney in Eastern Kentucky, and a Republican, for the vacancy, but ultimately decided against nominating her.[4]

Horn Boom’s name was first floated for the vacancy early in the Trump Presidency.[5]  She was ultimately nominated for the seat on June 7, 2017.

Legal Experience

Horn Boom has spent the majority of her legal career focused on advising and defending corporations and financial institutions.  As an associate at King & Spalding, however, Horn Boom represented General Motors in successfully defending a consent agreement granting the corporation credits against future taxes.[6]  Similarly, as a partner in Lexington, Horn Boom successfully defended Central Bank against a suit alleging violations of the Right to Financial Privacy Act.[7]  Horn Boom also helped implement a “$90 million acquisition of coal terminals and coal mines in Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia.”[8]

During her time as an AUSA, Horn Boom worked on financial crimes, including the prosecution of Gary Douglas Burks for a kickback scheme involving defense contracts.[9]  Horn Boom also successfully argued that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was not required to recuse itself in a case where the defendant had been represented by the newly appointed U.S. Attorney in his previous capacity.[10]

Political Activity

Horn Boom, who comes from a Republican family,[11] has a record of support for Republican candidates.[12]  Between 2001 and 2016, Horn Boom has donated approximately $4900 to Kentucky Republicans, including $1450 to McConnell and $1000 to Paul.[13]  Horn Boom also retweeted a message in support of Rep. Ryan Zinke’s candidacy for Secretary of the Interior.[14]

Overall Assessment

Unlike almost every other Trump judicial nomination, Horn Boom had a minority of ABA Standing Committee rate her “Not Qualified” for a federal judgeship.[15]  Typically, such ratings reflect either the relative youth of the candidate, lack of relevant experience, or ethical and temperament issues.  As Horn Boom is in her late 40s, and doesn’t seem to have any major ethical issues, it is possible that the low rating is based on Horn Boom’s focus on transactional law rather than litigation in the federal courts.

While Horn Boom has practiced as a federal prosecutor for several years, a search of both Westlaw and LexisNexis yields only a handful of cases where she is the counsel of record.  Furthermore, even her official profile at Frost Brown & Todd suggests that her primary expertise is in transactional law, not litigation.[16]

None of this suggests that Horn Boom is unqualified for the bench, or that she should not be confirmed.  Horn Boom is, by all accounts, an intelligent and non-ideological candidate.  Nevertheless, it is the responsibility of the Senate Judiciary Committee to probe Horn Boom’s background and judicial philosophy before voting to confirm.

[1] Andrew Wolfson, Two Women in Line for Federal Bench in Kentucky, Which Now Only Has One Female Judge out of 13, The Courier-Journal, May 9, 2017, http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/2017/05/09/two-women-line-federal-bench-kentucky-which-now-only-has-one-female-judge-out-13/314847001/.

[2] See id.

[3] Jennifer Hewlett, U.S. District Judge Jennifer Coffman to Retire from the Bench, Lexington Herald Leader, March 7, 2012, http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/crime/article44159211.html.  

[4] See Andrew Wolfson, Baxter Being Vetted for Federal Bench, Clerk Says, The Courier-Journal, April 15, 2014, http://www.courier-journal.com/story/news/politics/2014/04/15/baxter-vetted-federal-bench-clerk-says/7755619/.

[5] See Wolfson, supra n. 1.

[6] See Fulton Cnty. Tax. Comm’r. v. General Motors Corp., 507 S.E.2d 772 (Ga. App. 1998).

[7] See Coffman v. Centr. Bank & Trust Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 136757 (E.D. Ky., Sept. 25, 2012).

[9] See United States v. Burks, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24481 at *18 n.10 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 10, 2001). See also Former Executive Admits Role in Kickback Scheme, The Courier-Journal, July 1, 2000, https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/110487250/.  

[10] See United States v. Huff, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15480 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 13, 2002).

[11] See Wolfson, supra n. 1.

[13] See id.

[15] See ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, Ratings of Article III and Article IV Judicial Nominees, 115th Cong., https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/uncategorized/GAO/Web%20rating%20Chart%20Trump%20115.authcheckdam.pdf.