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.