Judge Iain Johnston – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Judge Iain Johnston was already an experienced litigator when he was appointed as a U.S. Magistrate Judge in 2013.  His seven years on the bench since then have prepared him well for a judicial appointment.

Background

Iain David Johnston grew up in McHenry County, Illinois.[1]  Johnston graduated from Rockford College in 1987 and from the John Marshall Law School in 1990.  

After graduation, Johnston clerked for Judge Philip Reinhard on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  He then joined the Illinois Attorney General’s office under Attorney General Roland Burris, becoming the Unit Supervisor of the Civil Prosecutions Unit.[2]  Johnston became a Partner at Altheimer & Gray in 2002.[3]  In 2003, he moved to Holland & Knight in Chicago.  In 2008, Johnston founded the firm Johnston Green LLC.

In 2013, Johnston was appointed as a Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.[4]  He continues to serve on that Court.  

History of the Seat

Johnston has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on May 10, 2019, when Judge Frederick Kapala moved to senior status.  Johnston was nominated for the seat on February 12, 2020.

Legal Career

Johnston has diverse legal experience, going from working for the Illinois Attorney General to working in private practice.  In the former role, Johnston defended the State of Illinois against civil suits.  For example, Johnston defended against claims that the Illinois State Police single out and detain African American and Hispanic citizens disproportionately.[5]

In private practice, Johnston notably represented the City of Evanston against a suit alleging that the imposition of the City’s Demolition Tax violated the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.[6]  Johnston also represented a group of Illinois State Police officers who were sued after a team of prosecutors and police officers allegedly conspired to “frame two innocent men” for the murders of an Illinois couple.[7] 

Jurisprudence

Johnston has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since his appointment in 2013.  In this role, he presides over arraignments, bail hearings, and non-dispositive motions.  He also handles civil cases by consent of the parties.  In his seven years on the bench, Johnston has also presided over many substantive matters.  Most notably, Johnston presided over the lawsuit arising from the County of McHenry’s refusal to allow the Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc. to expand its winemaking, brewing, and commercial activities.[8]  The Fraternite, a Catholic religious order, sued under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”).  The parties ultimately settled in a consent order after Johnston found that the denial of the permit violated RLUIPA.[9]  In his decision approving the consent order, Johnston noted the anti-Catholic bigotry directed against the order by local residents, noting that the Order faced vandalism and the threats of lynching.[10]

Writings

Over his career, Johnston has occasionally authored articles discussing the law.  For example, in an article he wrote as an Assistant Attorney General, Johnston discusses the failure of many attorneys to comply with the Local Rules of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois regarding summary judgment briefing and suggests how to comply with the Rules’ requirements.[11]  In another article written as a U.S. Magistrate Judge, Johnston discusses the depositions of “apex witnesses” or witnesses who claim that they are “too important” to be deposed in civil cases.[12]

Political Activity

Johnston has a limited political history, with only one political contribution to the campaign of Gery Chico, a Democrat running for U.S. Senate.[13]

Overall Assessment

With the exception of some who may be concerned with his defense of municipalities and officers charged with civil rights violations, there will be few who object to Johnston’s qualifications for the federal bench.  As such, one can predict a comfortable confirmation.


[1] Press Release, Office of Northern Illinois Federal District Court Chief Judge James Holderman, McHenry-Raised Iain Johnston Appointed Federal Magistrate in Rockford to Replace P. Michael Mahoney, Feb. 1, 2013.

[2] Id. 

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] See Chavez v. Ill. State Police, 27 F.Supp.2d 1053 (N.D. Ill. 1998).

[6] Kathrein v. City of Evanston, 636 F.3d 906 (7th Cir. 2011).

[7] See Whitlock v. Brueggemann, 682 F.3d 567 (7th Cir. 2012).

[8] See Fraternite Notre Dame, Inc. v. Cty. of McHenry, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 40030 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 2, 2020).

[9] Drew Zimmerman, Religious Order Expansion Can Go Forward in Marengo, Chicago Daily Herald, Mar. 10, 2020.

[10] See Fraternite Notre Dame, supra n. 10 at *6-7.

[11] Iain D. Johnston, Summary Judgment Motions in the Northern District: The Importance of Local Rules 12M & 12N, 12 CBA Record 24 (April 1998).

[12] See Hon. Iain D. Johnston, Apex Witnesses Claim They Are Too Big to Depose, 41 Litigation 41 (Fall 2014).

Judge Franklin Valderrama – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Judge Franklin Valderrama’s thirteen year tenure on the Cook County Circuit Court has put him in the center of a number of politically charged cases.  As such, if confirmed, Valderrama would certainly be prepared for the pressure that comes with being a federal judge.

Background

Franklin Ulyses Valderrama’s family is originally from Panama.[1]  Valderrama received a B.A. from the University of Illinois in 1985 and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law in 1988.  

After graduation, Valderrama worked at Sanchez, Daniels, & Hoffman LLP in Chicago, where he became a Partner.[2]  Valderrama was appointed to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 2007 and has served on the court ever since.

History of the Seat

Valderrama has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on September 27, 2019, when Judge Ruben Castillo moved to senior status.  Valderrama was nominated for the seat on February 12, 2020.

Legal Career

Valderrama’s legal career before he became a judge was at the firm of Sanchez, Daniels & Hoffman LLP.  At the firm, Valderrama largely focused on trial level litigation.[3]  Among his more notable cases, Valderrama represented Simon Management, who managed a strip mall, in a suit seeking liability for the death of a loss prevention specialist who was shot by a shoplifter.[4]  In the case, a jury found Simon Management partially responsible for the death of the loss prevention specialist.[5]  However, an appellate court reversed the verdict, finding that Simon Management could not be held responsible for the death of the plaintiff because there was no allegation that any negligence by security was involved in the specialist’s death.[6]

Jurisprudence

Valderrama has served as a judge on the Circuit Court of Cook County since 2007, the Circuit Court being the primary state trial court in Chicago.  In this role, Valderrama has presided over a number of high-profile cases.  

Most notably, Valderrama presided over the lawsuit arising from the police shooting of African American teenager Laquan McDonald.[7]  After a quick settlement in the case, a freelance journalist filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request seeking the release of dash and body cam footage of the shooting.[8]  Valderrama ruled against the City and ordered the release of the footage, which the City reluctantly agreed to.[9]  Despite predictions of violence, protests following the release of the footage were largely peaceful.[10]

Among other notable decisions, Valderrama dismissed a lawsuit brought by gun control groups seeking to shut down gun shops in Chicago neighborhoods,[11] and dismissed a lawsuit brought by the Chicago Public School System challenging the state’s school funding formula as discriminatory.[12] 

Valderrama has also had to deal with aggressive lawyers in his courtroom.  In one case, Valderrama strongly admonished attorney Charles Andrew Cohn for using offensive language in reference to his opposing counsel during a deposition.[13]  Cohn attempted to justify his language and conduct by claiming that “a man who insults on a daily basis everybody he does business with has now been elected President of the United States” and that, thus, “I can say what I want.”[14]  Expectedly, Valderrama did not find this defense very persuasive and admonished Cohn in his language, only for Cohn to accuse the judge of “robe rage.”[15]  Cohn ultimately faced an ethics complaint due to his conduct.[16]

Overall Assessment

Judge Valderrama’s thirteen year tenure on the state bench paints the picture of a no-nonsense jurist who can handle tough issues and confrontational attorneys.  As he has recieeved the stamp of approval from the Trump Administration and Illinois’ Democratic senators, Valderrama is poised for a comfortable confirmation.


[1] See Betsy Wangesteen, Man, Oh Manny: Meet Chicago’s Uberschmoozer: ‘Stalking’ Dick Notebaert and Other Adventures with Solicitor Sanchez, Crain’s Chicago Business, June 9, 1997.

[2] Id. 

[3] See Press Release, Office of President Donald J. Trump, President Donald J. Trump Announces Judicial Nominee, Feb. 5, 2020 (available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/president-donald-j-trump-announces-judicial-nominee-3/).

[4] See Kolodziejzak v. Melvin Simon & Assocs., 685 N.E.2d 985 (Ill. App. 1997).

[5] See id. at 987.

[6] Id. at 991.

[7] See John Kass, The Video That Will Rip Chicago Apart, Right Wing News, Nov. 12, 2015.

[8] See id.

[9] Don Babwin, Chicago Says It’ll Release Shooting Video Per Judge’s Order, A.P. Online, Nov. 10, 2015.

[10] Monica Davey and Mitch Smith, Chicago Protests Mostly Peaceful After Video of Police Shooting is Released, N.Y. Times, Nov. 24, 2015.

[11] See Dean Weingarten, Lawsuit Against Cities Near Chicago, for Black Crime in Chicago is Struck Down, Ammoland.com, Mar. 15, 2016.

[12] Mike Kennedy, Judge Rejects Chicago School System’s Funding Lawsuit; District May Have to End School Year 3 Weeks Early, Am. Sch. & Univ., Apr. 28, 2017.

[13] See Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer Accuses Judge of ‘Robe Rage,’ Tells Opposing Counsel to ‘Certify Your Own Stupidity,’ Ethics Complaint Says, ABA Journal, Dec. 20, 2018, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer-accused-judge-of-robe-rage-told-opposing-counsel-to-certify-her-stupidity-ethics-charges-say.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] Id.

John Kness – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

John Kness has had a varied career, including as a musician and in law enforcement.  Now, Kness hopes to add “judge” to his resume.

Background

A native Illinoisan, John Fitzgerald Kness was born in Chicago in 1969.  Kness graduated from Northwestern in 1991 and then spent seven years as a musician and two years as a Patrol Officer in Oak Park, Illinois, before matriculating at Northwestern Law.[1]

After graduating, Kness rapidly switched jobs, spending a year with the Chicago office of Jenner & Block, a year clerking for Judge William Pryor on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, a year at Winston & Strawn, and then a year at Tabet DiVito & Rothstein in Chicago.[2] 

In 2007, Kness returned to Winston & Strawn, working as an Associate for two years before becoming a federal prosecutor in the Northern District of Illinois.[3]  In 2016, he left that role when he was hired (by a narrow 4-3 margin) to be the first in-house attorney at the College of DuPage.[4]  He currently holds that position.

History of the Seat

Kness has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on February 17, 2018, when Judge Samuel Der-Yeghiayan moved to senior status.  

In early 2018, Kness was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in a federal judgeship.[5]  He subsequently interviewed with the White House and was tentatively selected as a nominee in June 2018.  In August 2018, he applied with a screening committee set up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.  Kness was nominated with the agreement of the senators in June 2019.

Legal Career

Kness has spent his legal career approximately evenly divided between private practice and criminal prosecution.  In the former, Kness primarily worked in general litigation, while in the latter, Kness worked exclusively on criminal prosecutions.  Over the course of his legal career, Kness handled seven jury and one bench trials, all criminal.[6]

Notably, Kness prosecuted Hasan and Jonas Edmonds, cousins who sought to join ISIL in Syria and commit acts of terrorism.[7]  He was able to secure long sentences against both defendants.[8]  In other matters, Kness also prosecuted eight defendants who had engaged in the trading, production, and/or distribution of child pornography.[9]

Political Activity

Kness has been a longtime member of both the Federalist Society and the National Rifle Association, suggesting a conservative ideology.[10]  His only contribution of record is a $1000 donation to Rudolph Giuliani’s campaign in 2008.[11]

Overall Assessment

Overall, Kness’ background reveals little that should trouble his confirmation.  Given the support offered by Durbin and Duckworth, Kness will likely be confirmed without too much hassle.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., John F. Kness: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Robert Sanchez, COD Votes to Hire In-House Attorney, Chicago Daily Herald, Sept. 16, 2016.

[5] See Kness, supra n. 1 at 23-24.

[6] See id. at 13.

[7] See U.S. Fed. News, 2 Illinois Cousins Sentenced to Decades-Long Prison Terms For Conspiring to Provide Material Support to a Foreign Terrorist Organization – ISIL, Sept. 20, 2016. 

[8] See id.

[9] See States News Service, Eight Self-Identified “Boy Lovers” Sentenced to Federal Prison For Sexual Exploitation Crimes After FBI Investigation, Oct. 15, 2012.

[10] See Kness, supra n.1 at 5.

Judge Mary Rowland – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

When the White House negotiates judge packages with Senators, it is inevitable that both sides have to accept nominees they would not otherwise have chosen.  That is likely what led the Trump Administration to nominate Judge Mary Rowland, an otherwise left-of-center nominee, for the federal bench.

Background

Mary Margaret Rowland was born on October 8, 1961 in Akron, OH.  Rowland graduated from the University of Michigan in 1984 and then worked for seven months as a field coordinator for the Senate campaign of Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).[1]  Rowland then attended the University of Chicago Law School, graduating in 1988.

After graduation, Rowland clerked for Judge Julian Cook on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan.  She then joined the Federal Defender’s Office in Chicago, becoming the Chief Appellate Attorney in 1995.[2]  In 2000, Rowland became an Income Partner at Hughes Socol Piers Resnick & Dym, Ltd.[3]  In 2012, Rowland was appointed as a Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.[4]  She continues to serve on that Court.

In 2009, Rowland was recommended to the Obama Administration for a federal judgeship by Sen. Dick Durbin, which could have made her the first openly gay nominee to the federal bench.[5]  The Administration ended up nominating three other choices: Sharon Coleman; Gary Feinerman; and Edmund Chang.

History of the Seat

Rowland has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on May 25, 2018, when Judge Amy St. Eve was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Unlike Seeger and Pacold, who had their first contact with the White House, Rowland applied directly to the screening committee set up by Durbin and Sen. Tammy Duckworth.[6]  In February 2018, she interviewed with Durbin and his staff.[7]  She interviewed with the White House in April and was officially nominated in June.

Legal Career

Rowland’s legal career before she became a judge largely focused on criminal defense and civil rights work.  As a federal defender in Chicago, Rowland tried five jury cases.[8]  She also served as Chief Appellate Attorney, arguing, among other cases, to successfully overturn the sentence of Mr. Stanback, convicted of a firearms offense.[9]

In private practice, Rowland notably represented a group of 3000 African Americans in a disparate impact suit against the City of Chicago after they were denied jobs as entry-level firefighters.[10]  Her team secured a trial verdict in favor of the firefighters.[11]  After the verdict was overturned on appeal, it was reinstated by the Supreme Court.[12]

Jurisprudence and Reversals

Rowland has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since her appointment in 2012.  In this role, she presides over arraignments, bail hearings, and non-dispositive motions.  She also handles civil cases by consent of the parties.  In her six years on the bench, Rowland has presided over three jury and two bench trials.  One of her jury trials involved a false arrest and excessive force claim brought against the Chicago police, which concluded with a partial verdict for the plaintiff.[13]

Over the course of her six year tenure on the state bench, Rowland has been reversed by higher courts in three cases.[14]  Two of those cases involved Rowlings’ rulings supporting ALJ denials of benefits being reversed by higher courts.[15]  The final case reversed Rowland’s use of a multiplier in determining fees in a class action case.[16]

Political Activity

Rowland has a limited political history, mainly consisting of her work for former Sen. Carl Levin and volunteering for President Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008.[17]

Overall Assessment

If Rowland had been nominated by President Obama in 2010, she would have been the first LGBT judge on the Illinois federal bench (an honor that went to Judge Staci Yandle in 2014).  It speaks to the Trump Administration’s assertiveness with judicial dealmaking that they proceeded with Rowland’s nomination.  That being said, her nomination by Trump and support from Durbin and Duckworth essentially guarantees Rowland a comfortable confirmation and gives Trump his first LGBT judicial appointee.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Mary M. Rowland: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Bill Dwyer, Oak Park’s Rowland Possible Nominee for Federal Bench, OakPark.com, Aug. 25, 2009, http://www.oakpark.com/News/Articles/8-25-2009/Oak-Park’s-Rowland-possible-nominee-for-federal-bench/.

[6] See. Rowland, supra n. 1 at 47.

[7] Id. 

[8] See id. at 35-36.

[9] See United States v. Stanback, 113 F.3d 651 (7th Cir. 1997).

[10] Lewis v. City of Chic., 2005 WL 693618 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 22, 2005), rev’d, 528 F.3d 488 (7th Cir. 2008), rev’d, 130 S. Ct. 2191 (2010).

[11] See id.

[12] See Trudy Ring, Lesbian Attorney Becomes Federal Magistrate Judge in Illinois, Advocate, Nov. 16, 2012, https://www.advocate.com/society/law/2012/11/16/lesbian-attorney-becomes-federal-magistrate-judge-illinois.  

[13] See Fox-Martin v. Tryba, No. 09-cv-1690, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 99237 (N.D. Ill. July 16, 2013).

[14] Rowland, supra n. 1 at 29.

[15] See Cullinan v. Colvin, No. 15-cv-11499, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 171975 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 13, 2016), rev’d, Cullinan v. Berryhill, 878 F.3d 598 (7th Cir. 2017) (reversing ruling holding that ALJ decision was supported by substantial evidence); Stahl v. Colvin, No. 13-cv-0752, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5841 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 20, 2015), rev’d, 632 F. App’x 853 (7th Cir. 2015) (reversing finding that substantial evidence supported ALJ determination).

[16] In re Sears, Roebuck & Co. Front-Loading Washer Prods. Liab. Litig., 867 F.3d 791 (7th Cir. 2017).

[17] See Rowland, supra n. 1 at 32.

Martha Pacold – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Martha Pacold, only 39, is part of a 3-judge package for the Northern District of Illinois negotiated between Senators Richard Durbin & Tammy Duckworth, and the White House.  While Pacold is currently based out of Washington D.C., she has spent the majority of her legal career in Chicago and is favored to return there as a federal judge.

Background

Martha Maria Pacold was born on February 3, 1979, in Richmond, VA.  Pacold attended Indiana University, graduating with highest honors in 1999 (at just 20).[1]  She then attended the University of Chicago Law School, graduating with honors in 2002.

After graduating, Pacold clerked for Judge Arthur Raymond Randolph on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, for Judge Jay Bybee on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and then for Justice Clarence Thomas on the U.S. Supreme Court.  In the latter position, Pacold was co-clerks with former Solicitor General Jeff Wall.

After finishing up her clerkships, Pacold joined the Department of Justice as Counsel to Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez.[2]  After a year, she joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia as a Special Assistant United States Attorney (SAUSA).[3]

In 2007, Pacold joined the Chicago Office of Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP as an Associate.  She became a Partner at the firm in 2010.[4]  In 2017, she left that position to serve as Executive Secretary in the Department of the Treasury.  She became Deputy General Counsel a few months later and currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Pacold has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on March 1, 2017, when Judge John Darrah moved to senior status.

In June 2017, Pacold was contacted by the White House to gauge her interest in a federal judgeship.[5]  In February 2018, she applied with a screening committee set up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.[6]  Pacold was chosen as a prospective nominee for the Northern District by the end of February and was nominated as part of a three-judge package on June 7, 2018.

Legal Experience

While Pacold has held many legal positions throughout her legal career, the most significant and longest is her ten year tenure at Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott LLP in Chicago.  In this position, Pacold primarily handled civil litigation on behalf of corporations.  For example, Pacold represented chemical company DuPont in defending against allegations of environmental contamination in New Jersey.[7]  She also represented Bayer Pharmaceuticals in a patent suit against Novartis.[8]

Notably, Pacold represented the City of Chicago and a team of Chicago police officers against a 1983 action based on claims of excessive force and false arrest.[9]  The case emerged from the defendant’s arrest while she was questioning police officers regarding their simultaneous arrest of her son.[10]  After a jury verdict in favor of the officers, Pacold successfully defended the decision on appeal.[11]

Political Activity

Over the last ten years, Pacold has made a handful of political contributions, all to Republicans.[12]  Among the recipients included the Presidential campaigns of John McCain and Mitt Romney, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Sens. Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton.[13]

Writings

Of Pacold’s writings, two may draw attention.  First, as a law student, Pacold authored a paper discussing fee shifting provisions in class actions.[14]  In the paper, Pacold argues that current fee shifting statutes give plaintiff’s attorneys too strong an incentive to settle rather than take cases to trial, as their attorney fee recoveries are often higher during settlement.[15]  Pacold notes that this is counterintuitive as “the desire of plaintiffs’ attorneys to obtain higher fees at the expense of their clients is not a legitimate reason to increase the rate of settlements further.”[16]  Instead, Pacold proposes reforming the statutory fee shifting structure by not applying it in the settlements context.[17]

Pacold’s second notable writing is a Letter to the Editor written as an undergraduate, in which Pacold argues that laws prohibiting sex discrimination do not prohibit same-sex sexual harassment (relating to the then-pending Oncale case).[18]  Instead, Pacold argues that Oncale, a male who suffered sexual harassment from his male boss, cannot prove sex discrimination because his workplace has no females.[19]  The Supreme Court disagreed in a unanimous decision.[20]

Overall Assessment

While Martha Pacold is, ultimately, a package nominee, to be considered with two others supported by Senators and the Administration, she may draw more opposition than her fellow nominees.  This is for three reasons: first, Pacold is the youngest of the nominees at only 39 (although she does meet the ABA’s 12 years of practice requirement); second, Pacold is on record indicating that Title VII does not protect same-sex sexual harassment, a controversial position given the current focus on Title VII’s protection for transgender and LGBT individuals; third, Pacold clerked for Justice Thomas, who is notorious for selecting many deeply conservative individuals to clerk for him.  The combination of these factors may draw some raised eyebrows from Democrats.

However, with support from Durbin and Duckworth, Pacold remains likely to be ultimately confirmed with a strong bipartisan majority.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong. Martha M. Pacold: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 31.

[6] Id. 

[7] In re Environmental Contamination of Pompton Lakes, N.J.: Super. Ct. (Bergen Cnty.).

[8] See In re Bayer HealthCare LLC and CSL Behring LLC, Case No. 2010-M918 (Fed. Cir.).

[9] Whitehead v. Bond, 680 F.3d 919 (7th Cir. 2012).

[10] See id. at 922-25.

[11] See id. at 926.

[13] See id.

[14] Martha Pacold, Attorneys’ Fees in Class Actions Governed by Fee-Shifting Statutes, 68 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1007 (Summer 2001).

[15] Id. at 1028.

[16] Id. at 1029.

[17] See id. at 1030-32.

[18] Martha M. Pacold, When is Sexual Harassment Discrimination, Wash. Post, Dec. 17, 1997.

[19] See id.

[20] See Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Srvs, Inc., 523 US 75 (1998).

Steven Seeger – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Steven Seeger, a trial attorney for the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) is part of a 3-judge package that Trump has put forward for the Northern District of Illinois.

Background

A native Illinoisan, Steven Charles Seeger was born in Normal on March 18, 1971.  Seeger attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school, receiving his B.A. summa cum laude in 1993, and then spent a year working as an English teacher in Japan.[1]

Seeger received his J.D. magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he served as Articles Editor at the Law Review.[2]  Seeger then clerked for Judge David Sentelle on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then joined the Chicago Office of Kirkland & Ellis as an associate.  He was made a Partner at the firm in 2003.[3]

In 2010, Seeger joined the Securities & Exchange Commission, based in Chicago as Senior Trial Counsel.[4]  He has held that position since then.

History of the Seat

Seeger has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.  This seat opened on October 21, 2016, when Judge James Zagel moved to senior status.  As the seat opened with only three months left in President Obama’s presidency, no nomination was ever made to fill the seat.

In early 2017, Seeger reached out to Illinois Republicans to express his interest in a federal judgeship.[5]  In February 2018, he applied with a screening committee set up by Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Democrats.[6]  Seeger was chosen as a prospective nominee for the Northern District by the end of February.

On March 20, 2018, Seeger interviewed with Durbin and Duckworth.[7]  President Trump announced Seeger’s nomination as part of a three-judge package on June 7, 2018.

Legal Career

Seeger has spent his legal career primarily in two positions: at Kirkland & Ellis, and at the SEC.  In the former, Seeger primarily worked in general litigation, while in the latter, Seeger worked exclusively on the enforcement of SEC matters.  Over the course of his legal career, Seeger handled two jury and one bench trials.[8]

At Kirkland, Seeger handled the linerboard antitrust litigation, a series of lawsuits that paper companies had violated the Sherman Act by artificially restricting the supply of linerboard.[9]  In the litigation, Seeger represented International Paper, and the suit eventually led to a settlement.  Additionally, while at Kirkland, Seeger co-authored an amicus brief at the U.S. Supreme Court in support of McCreary County’s display of the Ten Commandments before a courthouse.[10]  The display was ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court as a violation of the First Amendment.[11]

Since 2010, Seeger has worked as an SEC trial litigator.  Among his more prominent cases, Seeger prosecuted radio talk-show host Pat Kiley for allegedly soliciting clients for a Ponzi scheme,[12] and investor Jason Bo-Alan Beckman for running an investment fraud scheme.[13]

Writings

In 1997, Seeger authored an article on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the proper test in evaluating religious burdens under the law.[14]  In the article, Seeger weighs three competing tests for evaluating burdens under RFRA and adopts the broadest: the religious motivation test.[15]  The religious motivation test asks if a burdened act is “motivated” by a religious belief to determine if RFRA protects it.[16]  In supporting this test, Seeger argues that it allows for the broadest application to RFRA’s test, while tests that require the burdened act to be “central to” or “compelled by” faith leaves out non-Abrahamic faith traditions that apply faith restrictions more loosely.[17]  Seeger also argues that this approach keeps judges out of the task of parsing the weight of religious prohibitions, noting:

“Courts cannot decide whether a practice is central to or compelled by a litigant’s religion without making a theological interpretation of the believer’s faith.[18]

Overall Assessment

Generally speaking (although not guaranteed), package nominees generally sail to confirmation as both the White House and senators have an incentive not to let the package die.  Seeger is similarly favored.

Nonetheless, Seeger may face questions regarding his views on RFRA.  Specifically, senators may probe Seeger’s endorsement of a “religious motivation” view, noting that corporations and individuals may use “religious motivation” to avoid compliance with civil rights and discrimination laws.  Seeger may be asked to clarify his view on the application of RFRA in such circumstances.  With the backing of Durbin and Duckworth, however, Seeger is, nonetheless, likely to overcome such questions and be confirmed.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Steven C. Seeger: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 26-27.

[6] Id. at 27.

[7] Id.

[8] See id. at 10.

[9] See In re Linerboard Antitrust Litig., C.A. Nos. 98-5055, 99-3141, MDL No. 1261 (E.D. Pa. filed March 16, 1999).

[10] See McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, 545 U.S. 844 (2005), brief at 2004 WL 2825469.

[11] See id.

[12] See Dan Browning, Kiley Denies Role in Cook Ponzi Scheme; Talk-show Host Pat Kiley Alleged That His Former Lawyers Had Taken Orders From Convicted Schemer Trevor Cook, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 15, 2010.

[13] David Hanners, Federal Judge Freezes Beckman Assets in Investor Fraud Case, St. Paul

[14] Steven C. Seeger, Restoring Rights to Rites: The Religious Motivation Test and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 95 Mich. L. Rev. 1472 (1997).

[15] See id. at 1475.

[16] Id.

[17] Id. at 1503-05.

[18] Id. at 1510.