Judge Marilyn Horan – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

A longtime state judge in Western Pennsylvania, this is Judge Marilyn Horan’s second chance at a federal judgeship, her first having ended in failure due to a blockade on judicial confirmations at the end of the Obama Administration.  Given the bipartisan support behind her nomination, her distinguished background, and moderate judicial record, Horan is likely to be confirmed smoothly this time around.


A Western Pennsylvania native, Marilyn Jean Horan was born on September 13, 1954 in Butler, in the outskirts of Pittsburgh.[1]  When Horan was 10, her father, a foreman at Armco Steel, was killed in a lightning strike alongside three others.[2]  Horan attended Pennsylvania State University, graduating magna cum laude in 1976.  Horan continued on to the University of Pittsburgh Law School graduating with a J.D. in 1979.  As a law student, Horan interned at the Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Butler.[3]

After graduating, Horan joined the Butler law firm Murrin, Murrin & Taylor.  Three years later, Horan became a partner and the firm was renamed Murrin, Taylor, Flach & Horan.

In 1996, Horan was appointed by Republican Governor Tom Ridge to be the first female judge on the Butler County Court of Common Pleas.[4]  Horan continues to serve as a judge there today.  In addition, Horan became a Common Pleas Court Administrative Judge in October 2017.[5]

During Horan’s tenure on the Court of Common Pleas, she has received several awards and commendations from the community including the Susan B. Anthony Award from the Women’s Bar Association of Western Pennsylvania,[6] the President’s Award from the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges,[7] the Outstanding Leadership Award from the Juvenile Justice Commission,[8] and the Anne X. Alpern Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Association Commission on Women in the Profession.[9]

In 2013, Horan applied for a federal judgeship with the application committee set up by Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA).[10]  Horan interviewed with Toomey and his staff in early 2014 and with Casey in early 2015.[11]  In July 2015, Horan was then nominated by President Obama for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania created by Judge Terrence McVerry’s move to senior status.[12]  While Horan had bipartisan support for the seat and was unanimously voted out of the Judiciary Committee in January 2016, she never received a floor vote and her nomination was returned at the end of the 114th Congress.

History of the Seat

The seat Horan has been nominated for opened on April 24, 2013, with the unexpected death of Judge Gary Lancaster.[13]  On July 30, 2015, President Obama nominated Judge Robert J. Colville from the Alleghany County Court of Common Pleas to fill the vacancy created by Lancaster’s death.[14]  The nomination of Colville, a Democrat, was made as a package along with Horan’s nomination to a different seat as well as the nominations of two other Democrats.

While all four nominees in the package received a hearing on December 9, 2015, Colville and fellow Democrat John Milton Younge were blocked from Judiciary Committee consideration by Chairman Chuck Grassley, who was unhappy with their support of abortion rights.[15]  As such, Colville was not voted out of Committee and was returned unconfirmed at the end of the 114th Congress.  At the same time, Horan’s nomination for the McVerry seat was also returned unconfirmed to the President.

In January 2017, Toomey and Casey indicated their support for re-nominating Horan for the Western District.[16]  Horan was interviewed by the White House Counsel’s Office on May 15, 2017 and then maintained contact with their office while the nomination remained pending for seven months.[17]  Finally, Horan was nominated for the vacancy on December 20, 2017.[18]

Legal Experience

Horan’s sole legal occupation between law school and taking the bench was serving as an attorney at the firm of Murrin, Taylor, Flach & Horan in Butler, Pennsylvania.  At the firm, Horan handled family law, civil, and small business cases, practicing almost entirely in state court.[19]

Among other matters, Horan litigated many contentious family law cases.  In one case, Horan represented a father seeking visitation rights for his unborn child over the objection of the mother.[20]  In another case, Horan represented a mother in tracking down a child from a common law marriage who was kidnapped and taken to England by the child’s father.[21]  In another notable case, Horan successfully represented a mother in regaining custody of children that she had voluntarily relinquished to her parents.[22]


Horan has served on the Butler County Court of Common Pleas for the last twenty two years.  During this time, Horan has overseen over one thousand cases to verdict and judgment.[23]  Of these cases, the vast majority (approximately 75%) are civil cases, including municipal and administrative matters and family law.[24]

On the bench, Horan’s record has been relatively mainstream with a relatively low reversal rate.  Among over one thousand cases handled by Horan over the last twenty-two years, only approximately 26 have been reversed by a higher court.[25]  In one of her more notable reversals, Horan ruled that a defendant who had committed homicide by vehicle while under the influence had to pay restitution to the insurance company that paid out a life insurance policy to the decedent.[26]  In reversing, the Pennsylvania Superior Court found that an insurer did not constitute a victim that could claim restitution under Pennsylvania law.[27]

Political Activity

Horan is a Republican, and unsuccessfully pursued a Republican Party endorsement for a Superior Court seat in 2002.[28]  However, she has not been involved with any political party or campaign other than her own judicial campaigns.[29]

Overall Assessment

As of today, Horan’s chances of a smooth confirmation look pretty high.  She has a mainstream moderate record, is well-liked by fellow attorneys and has won several awards from legal associations.  Furthermore, she has the support of her Democratic and Republican home-state senators, as well as the backing of two different Administrations.  Finally, despite over two decades on the state bench, Horan has managed to avoid any hot-button decisions or cases.  As such, Horan looks set for a relatively painless confirmation.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Marilyn Jean Horan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Karen Kane, Horan Honored as State’s Outstanding Jurist, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Aug. 22, 2004.

[3] See Horan, supra n. 1 at 2.

[4] See Kane, supra n. 2.

[5] See Horan, supra n. 1.

[6] Erin Giebler, Judge Horan Receives WBA Award, Alleghany County Bar Association Lawyers Journal, Mar. 3, 2006.

[7] Kane, supra n. 2.

[8] Metro, Butler County, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 8, 2005.

[9] Bill Vidonic, Marilyn J. Horan, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, Apr. 9, 2014.

[10] See Horan, supra n. 1 at 55.

[11] Id.

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

[13] Michael Hasch and Bobby Kerlik, Gary Lancaster, Chief U.S. Judge for Western Pa, Dead at 63, Pittsburgh Tribune Live, April 24, 2013, http://triblive.com/news/adminpage/3906347-74/district-chief-died.

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

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

[16] See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Marilyn Jean Horan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 55.

[17] See id.

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

[19] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Marilyn Jean Horan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 47.

[20] Stroup v. Stroup (Butler County late 1980s).

[21] Jenkins v. Jenkins (Butler County approximately 1984).

[22] Cady v. Weber, 464 A.2d 423 (Pa. Super. 1983).

[23] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Marilyn Jean Horan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 17.

[24] See id.

[25] See id. at 35-40.

[26] Commonwealth v. Opperman, CA 124 of 1999.

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

[28] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Marilyn Jean Horan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 45-46.

[29] See id. at 46.