Roy Altman – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida

A former federal prosecutor, Roy Altman was on the shortlist to be the top federal prosecutor in the Southern District of Florida before getting the nod for a judgeship instead.  Today, at age 36, Altman is the youngest judge Trump has nominated, and the youngest judicial nominee put forward since Judge David Bunning was nominated in 2001.

Background

Roy Kalman Altman was born in Caracas, Venezuela in 1982.  Altman received his B.A. cum laude from Columbia University in 2004 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2007.[1]  After receiving his J.D., Altman clerked for Judge Stanley Marcus on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.

After finishing his clerkship, Altman became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida, staying with the office for six years.[2]  During his last year at the office, Altman served as Deputy Chief of the Special Prosecutions Section of the office.[3]  In 2014, Altman joined the Miami office of Podhurst Orseck, P.A. as a Partner.[4]  He continues to work there to this day.

In 2017, Altman’s name was floated as a candidate to be U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida by the newly elected Trump Administration.[5]  The Administration ultimately ended up nominating Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Ariana Fajardo Orshan to that position.[6]

History of the Seat

Altman has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.  This seat opened when Judge Joan Lenard moved to senior status on July 1, 2017.  In October 2017, Altman interviewed with the Judicial Nominating Commission (JNC) formed by Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.  The JNC chose Altman as one of ten finalists to be passed onto the Senators.[7]  After interviews with Rubio and Nelson, Altman Altman was contacted by the Trump Administration in February 2018.[8]  After interviewing with the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice, Altman was formally nominated on May 8, 2018.

Legal Experience

Altman’s legal career can be divided into two primary segments: working as a federal prosecutor; and being a Partner at Podhurst Orseck.  As a federal prosecutor, Altman handled a wide variety of cases, including drug crimes, white collar crimes, and immigration cases.[9]  During his time at the office, Altman had 22 jury trials (two as sole counsel, and 15 as lead counsel), and argued three appeals before the Eleventh Circuit.[10]  Among his more prominent cases, Altman prosecuted sex-trafficker Damian St. Patrick Baston and obtained a twenty-seven year sentence.[11]  During the trial, Altman’s cross-examination prompted Baston to accuse the attorney of being “an evil dude,” an outburst which did not ultimately help him either in the guilt or sentencing phases.[12]

From December 2014 onwards, Altman has worked as a Partner at Podhurst Orseck, working primarily in aviation disaster litigation.[13]  Notably, Altman represents the families of passengers killed in the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370, handling a multidistrict litigation before Judge Ketanji Jackson in Washington D.C.[14]

Writings

Over the last few years, Altman has occasionally voiced his opinion on public policy issues, usually advocating for conservative positions.

Border Security

In 2013, Altman authored an op-ed criticizing the recent Ninth Circuit decision in United States v. Cotterman.[15]  The Cotterman decision held that border patrol agents could not conduct a forensic search of a laptop seized at the border without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.[16]  In his op-ed, Altman sharply criticizes the opinion, stating that the reasonable suspicion standard “will severely restrict the ability of federal agents to protect America’s borders.”[17]  He also argues that the opinion is “unworkable” and suggests that the Supreme Court should overturn the opinion (the Supreme Court denied to review the Cotterman decision, which remains good law to this day).

Search Incident to Arrest

In 2014, Altman authored an article advocating for an expansion of the search-incident-to-arrest doctrine (a doctrine that permits warrantless searches of items found on or around an arrestee’s person) to cover cell phones.[18]  In the article, Altman argues that, despite the storage capacity of modern cell phones, that:

“There is likewise little reason to treat cell phones differently because they may contain more “personal” information than a briefcase, suitcase, or address book.”[19]

Altman goes on to argue that criminals frequently use cell phones to “facilitate their illegal enterprises” and as such, they should not be granted protection against searches incident to arrest.[20]

Iran Deal

Altman has also been sharply critical of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (Iran Nuclear Deal).  In a 2015 editorial, Altman urged Senator Chuck Schumer to fight the deal, stating:

“…wrongdoers must be punished, not rewarded; liars must be checked, not trusted; and terrorists must remain the objects of our enmity and the targets of our aggression, not our partners in negotiations or the subjects of our contrition.”[21]

Altman goes on to argue that the Deal will “embolden our enemies and discourage our allies” and urges Schumer to abandon his leadership ambitions to kill the deal.[22]

Political Activity

Altman has been fairly active as a donor and volunteer for Republican campaigns.  For example, Altman supported the campaigns of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez Cantera, Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, and Sen. Marco Rubio, all Republicans.[23]  Altman has also donated exclusively to Republicans, giving $4750 over the last five years.[24]

Additionally, Altman is also a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, the American Enterprise Institute Enterprise Club, and the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies.[25]

Overall Assessment

While Altman is undoubtedly an intelligent and talented attorney, his nomination looks likely to draw opposition due to a number of factors.

First, Altman is remarkably young.  As noted above, Altman is only 36 years old, younger than any judicial nominee in the last sixteen years.  While Altman has gained a significant degree of experience in his 36 years, he still falls short of the twelve years of practice requirement the ABA recommends (an admittedly arbitrary cutoff).  Second, Altman has spoken and written in support of conservative legal and policy outcomes.  While Altman’s opposition to the Iran Nuclear Deal could be dismissed as a personal view irrelevant to his jurisprudence, his endorsement of broad law enforcement powers to search suspects could draw the ire of civil liberties groups and those rightfully distrustful of granting broad police powers to law enforcement.

Taking together his age, his writings, and his political activism Altman may face a tougher confirmation process than his fellow Southern District nominees.


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

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at 1.

[5] David Markus, Candidate List for U.S. Attorney Expands (UPDATED), Southern District of Florida Blog, June 7, 2017, http://sdfla.blogspot.com/2017/06/candidate-list-for-us-attorney-expands.html.  

[6] Jay Weaver, Trump Nominates First Woman Ever to be U.S. Attorney in South Florida, Miami Herald, June 7, 2018, https://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/article212767819.html.  

[7] David Markus, Breaking — JNC Makes the Cut to 10 Finalists for District Judge, Southern District of Florida Blog, Nov. 29, 2017, http://sdfla.blogspot.com/2017/11/breaking-jnc-makes-cut-to-10-finalists.html.

[8] See Altman, supra n. 1 at 40.

[9] Id. at 20.

[10] Id. at 20, 23-24.

[11] United States v. Baston, No. 13-20914-CR-CMA (S.D. Fla. 2013).

[12] Jay Weaver, Jamaican Man Denies Being Global Pimp in Miami Sex-Trafficking Trial, Miami Herald, June 24, 2014, http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/community/miami-dade/article1968022.html.  

[13]See Altman, supra n. 1 at 22.

[14] See Air Crash Over the S. Indian Ocean, No. 16-mc-00184-KBJ (D.D.C. 2016) (Jackson, J.) (pending).

[15] Roy Altman, Judges for Lax Border Security, Wall St. Journal, Apr. 3, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887323296504578397382773377250.  

[16] See United States v. Cotterman, 709 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 2013) (en banc).

[17] See Altman, supra n. 15.

[18] Roy K. Altman, The Case for Incident-to-Arrest Searches of Cell Phones, 29 Crim. Just. 28 (Spring 2014).

[19] See id.

[20] See id.

[21] Roy K. Altman, Schumer Says the Right Thing on the Iran Deal – Now He Needs to Persuade Eleven More Senators, Nat’l Rev., Aug. 10, 2015, https://www.nationalreview.com/2015/08/charles-schumer-obama-iran-deal-senate-democrats/.

[22] See id.

[23] See Altman, supra n. 1 at 17-18.

[25] See Altman, supra n. 1 at 5-6.