Thoughts on the Sept. 6th Judiciary Committee Hearing

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on two circuit court nominees, two district court nominees, and one executive nominee.  Here are my preliminary thoughts on the proceedings, which can be watched here.  (I’ll focus on the first panel, as Parker and Campbell skated through and will be confirmed easily).

DISCLAIMER:  These are just my opinions.  Reasonable observers of the hearing can obviously disagree on any of these points.

  1. Two Circuit Court Nominees Will Not be The Norm – Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) started the day by recognizing that the hearing will be the second with multiple circuit court nominees, a fact that had drawn liberal criticism.  Grassley’s statement acknowledged that the hearing was “unusual” and suggested that he would go back to having only one circuit court nominee per hearing.
  2. Joan Larsen Will Be Confirmed – Republicans really want Justice Larsen on the circuit court bench; running ads to influence home state senators, threatening to ignore blue slips, and double-booking her with another controversial nominee.  Over the course of the hearing, it was clear why.  Larsen was poised and comfortably conversed with senators on several legal issues.  She assured Democrats that she would be willing to rule against Trump, and emphasized the importance of judicial independence.  She also blunted another line of criticism by confirming that she had no role in the controversial “torture memos” which came from the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) during her tenure there.  As I’ve noted before, the strongest argument against Larsen is a procedural one based on lack of consultation.  Now that the blue slips are in, it’s a question of when, rather than if, Larsen will be confirmed.
  3. Amy Barrett Will Be Strongly Opposed – As Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) noted early in the hearing, Barrett is “controversial.”  Her writings on Catholic judges and the death penalty and stare decisis have drawn criticism.  For much of the hearing, Barrett carefully navigated her old writings, assuring the Committee that she would follow precedent and that judges could not let their religious views supersede the law.  However, much of the posturing was undone by two key missteps.  First, under questioning from Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Barrett declared that, had she been nominated as a trial judge, rather than as an appellate judge, her Catholic faith would compel her not to enter orders of execution.  Sen. Hirono balked at the answer, but did not ask the obvious follow-up: why does Barrett feel compelled to recuse herself from entering orders of execution as a trial judge, but not from affirming such orders as an appellate judge?  Second (and much more damaging from a PR perspective), in an exchange with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), Barrett acknowledged that she had accepted $4200 from the controversial anti-LGBTQ group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).  When Franken pointed out that ADF held many extreme views, including supporting the sterilization of transgender persons, and had been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Barrett inexplicably tried to defend ADF.  She argued that as ADF had filed as co-counsel at the Supreme Court with Wilmer Hale and that, as she herself had experienced no discrimination while interacting with them, they could not be a hate group.  It was an unnecessarily defensive performance and undermined her careful answers until that point.
  4. Franken Remains the Minority’s Best Questioner – In the last “big” hearing,  Franken helped lead the Democrat’s charge against John Bush and Damien Schiff.  This time, he shone in his exchange with Barrett, honing in on inconsistencies in her answers, pressing for follow ups, and stepping back when needed.  Despite not having a law degree, Franken’s performance was one any trial attorney would be proud of.
  5. Sen. Kennedy Remains the Majority’s Toughest Questioner – During the Bush-Newsom-Schiff hearing, Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA) hammered the latter for his inflammatory blog posts and refused to question Bush at all.  This time, Kennedy started off his questioning by noting that some Republicans had suggested he “go easy” on the Trump nominees.  He declined to do so, pushing Barrett and Larsen to engage with him on legal philosophy, and criticizing them when they refused to do so.  Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) was forced to come to their defense, noting that the nominees were ethically barred from answering some of Kennedy’s questions.  Nevertheless, an unchastened Kennedy maintained the same tempo of questioning in his second round.  At any rate, while Kennedy will likely support both Barrett and Larsen, his desire to engage in real legal debate is refreshing and makes him a welcome presence on the committee.

Tommy Parker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee

Thomas Lee Robinson Parker, professionally known as “Tommy”, is a prominent Memphis attorney, having served as the president of the Memphis Bar Association.  With a varied legal background including substantive litigation experience, Parker should face little trouble being confirmed quickly.


Tommy Parker received a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of South Carolina in 1985 and went onto earn his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in 1989.  After graduating, Parker joined the Memphis law firm, Waring Cox PLC. as an associate, working in Tennessee state and federal court litigation.

In 1996, Parker was hired by U.S. Attorney Veronica F. Coleman to serve as a federal prosecutor.  As an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee, Parker handled both trial and appellate criminal matters, including drug and white collar cases.

In 2005, Parker left the U.S. Attorney’s office to join the Memphis office of Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, P.C. as a Shareholder.[1]  Parker currently serves in the same capacity.

History of the Seat

Parker has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee.  This seat opened on July 1, 2015, when Judge Samuel Mays moved to senior status.  Approximately six weeks before Mays moved to senior status, President Obama nominated Edward Stanton, the then-U.S. Attorney in the district, to fill the judgeship.[2]  Stanton, who had the strong support of Republican Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker,[3] received a hearing on September 30, 2015, with the Committee unanimously approving his nomination on October 29.  However, despite there being no objections to his nomination, Stanton was blocked from a floor vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell,[4] ultimately being returned unconfirmed at the end of the 114th Congress.

President Trump declined to renominate Stanton for the seat, instead nominating Parker on July 13, 2017.

Legal Experience

Parker began his legal career as a litigation associate at Waring Cox, PLC., representing corporations in tort claims.  Early in his career, Parker was part of the legal team defending a fire equipment company and its salesman against tort claims brought by a fireman injured by the equipment.[5]  Parker also defended stair manufacturers against claims by a worker injured by falling off their equipment, unsuccessfully arguing before the Tennessee Supreme Court that his clients should be able to plead the contributory negligence of the plaintiff’s employer as an affirmative defense.[6]

In 1996, Parker became a federal prosecutor.  In this capacity, Parker represented the federal government in criminal proceedings, including responding to motions to suppress,[7] and defending government intent to seek the death penalty.[8]  Parker also had the opportunity to represent the government in appeals before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[9]  For example, Parker successfully argued that cops did not exceed the scope of a traffic scope in searching a vehicle.[10]

In 2005, Parker left prosecution to flip to the other side, working as a criminal defense attorney in white collar criminal cases.  Parker also represented corporations in defending against government investigations,[11] and RICO claims.[12]  Parker has also taken on some cases representing plaintiffs.  For example, in one case, Parker represented the heirs of a decedent beaten to death by the Memphis police.[13]

Political Activity

Parker has been active in the local Republican Party, serving on the Steering Committee of the Republican Party of Shelby County from 2009-2014, and serving as the Party’s counsel during the 2016 election.  Parker has also been a generous donor to Tennessee Republicans, donating $2000 to Alexander, $1750 to Corker, and $1800 to Rep. David Kustoff (R-TN).[14]  Parker has also contributed to national Republicans, giving to the presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney and John Kasich, as well as to the Republican National Committee.[15]

Overall Assessment

There is no such thing as a “sure thing” when it comes to judicial nominations.  After all, in a universe where well-credentialed, moderate nominees were swiftly approved, this vacancy would have been filled two years ago with the confirmation of Edward Stanton.  Nevertheless, Parker’s strong legal experience, connections in the Memphis legal community, and mainstream politics makes him a likely candidate for the federal bench.

With his confirmation, Tennessee litigants can expect the addition of another moderate-conservative to the Western District bench.

[1] The Bulletin Board, Department: News About TBA Members, 41 Tenn. B.J. 10, 11 (February 2005).

[2] Press Release, White House, President Obama Nominates Edward L. Stanton III to Serve on the United States District Court for the Western District of Tennessee (May 21, 2015) (on file at  

[3] The Leadership Conference, These Republican Senators Want Their Judicial Nominees Confirmed. Majority Leader McConnell Isn’t Listening, Medium, Aug. 4, 2016,

[4] The Leadership Conference, Mitch McConnell Tried Skipping Over the Two Longest-Waiting Judicial Nominees. They’re Both Black Men, Medium, Sept. 9, 2016,  

[5] See Richmond v. Adelman, 1991 Tenn. App. LEXIS 572 (Tenn. App. July 24, 1991).

[6] Ridings v. The Ralph Parsons Co. et al., 914 S.W.2d 79 (Tenn. 1996).

[7] See, e.g., United States v. Ramirez, 115 F. Supp. 2d 918 (W.D. Tenn. 2000) (denying motion to suppress based on warrantless search of vehicle).  

[8] See, e.g., United States v. Haynes, 269 F. Supp. 2d 970 (W.D. Tenn. 2003) (denying motion to strike gov’t notice of intent to seek death penalty).

[9] See United States v. Brown, 276 F.3d 211 (6th Cir. 2002); United States v. Saucedo, 226 F.3d 782 (6th Cir. 2000); United States v. Wellman, 185 F.3d 651 (6th Cir. 1999); United States v. Gibson, 135 F.3d 1124 (6th Cir. 1998); United States v. Weaver, 126 F.3d 789 (6th Cir. 1997); United States v. Comer, 93 F.3d 1271 (6th Cir. 1996).

[10] See United States v. Villanueva, 89 Fed. Appx. 584 (6th Cir. 2004).

[11] See, e.g., United States v. UT Medical Group, Inc. et al., 2010 WL 11493930 (W.D. Tenn. Jan. 27, 2010).

[12] See, e.g., Duvall v. Ecoquest Intern., Inc., 2007 WL 2811052 (E.D. Mo. Sept. 24, 2007).

[13] Buckley v. City of Memphis, 2005 WL 6737964 (W.D. Tenn. Feb. 9, 2005).

[15] See id.