Editorials and Opinion
Coalition Raises Money in Politics Concerns About Thapar Nomination (People For blog, 05/18/17)
Rio Tazewell: Yesterday a letter signed by 24 organizations was delivered to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which today approved the nomination of Judge Amul Thapar, President Trump’s pick to fill a seat on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on a party line vote.
In addition to being a co-author and signatory of the letter, PFAW delivered more than 25,000 petition signatures asking senators to reject this nomination given Thapar’s troubling views on the issue of money in politics. Judge Thapar has gone beyond the Supreme Court’s directives in his antagonism toward rules governing the financing of political campaigns, raising alarm among groups advocating for equality in our electoral process.
POINT OF VIEW: Florida shows bipartisan support for judicial nominees (Palm Beach Post [FL], 05/17/17)
Linda Geller-Schwartz, National Council of Jewish Women: President Donald J. Trump ... can act on an appeal from our two U.S. senators, Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, to fill vacant seats in our federal courts.
These two senators have jointly asked the president to re-nominate three of President Barack Obama’s judicial nominees to Florida’s federal courts who had been vetted and approved by both senators, but left waiting for hearings .... Nelson’s and Rubio’s rare show of bipartisanship couldn’t come at a better time for Florida’s federal courts. There are currently seven federal judicial vacancies in Florida and five of them are formally classified as “judicial emergencies” ... With our courts already stretched razor thin, it only makes sense to move these qualified bipartisan nominees through the process rather than starting over from scratch. To underscore this point, Nelson and Rubio made clear in their letter that “timely action is needed as the two vacancies in the Middle District are considered judicial emergencies.”
The letter also refers to the failure of Senate leaders to take “timely action in the last Congress.”
Trump’s Justice: Neil Gorsuch will be the enduring symbol of a disastrous presidency. (Slate.com, 05/17/17)
Mark Joseph Stern: Gorsuch will be around for decades, helping to shape American law. But no matter how long he stays on the bench, his legacy—and his court itself—will be permanently tainted by Trump’s turpitude.
No matter what happened during Trump’s presidency, Gorsuch was destined to go down in history with an asterisk next to his name. The justice assumed a seat Republicans stole from President Barack Obama by refusing to hold hearings, let alone a vote, for Merrick Garland. This unprecedented blockade was an appalling political heist, diminishing the court’s independence in an effort to preserve its conservatism. Anyone who agreed to take this stolen seat was bound to be viewed as illegitimate by a broad swath of the country.
Trump wants to “break up the Ninth Circuit.” How would that help him? (Brookings, 05/16/17)
Russell Wheeler: seeking favorable venues is responsible advocacy. It’s why opponents of Obama’s policies challenged them in Texas federal courts.
The basic reason Trump wants to break up courts in the Ninth circuit is because he’s mad at their judges. A 1998 report of a statutory commission appointed by Chief Justice William Rehnquist to assess appellate structural alternatives reminds us that “It is wrong to realign circuits … or to restructure courts …because of particular judicial decisions or particular judges. This rule must be faithfully honored, for the independence of the judiciary is of constitutional dimension and requires no less.” (Disclaimer: I worked on the report while at the Federal Judicial Center.)
Trump has pivotal job ahead in selecting Keeley's replacement (Exponent Telegram [WV], 05/15/17)
Managing Editor Matt Harvey column: Trump’s replacement for U.S. District Judge Irene M. Keeley — who takes senior status Aug. 12, opening up her seat — could be pivotal to the future of North Central West Virginia. ... The president would do well to listen closely to recommendations from U.S. senators Shelley Moore Capitol, R-W.Va., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, because judicial appointments must be confirmed by the Senate, which already is fractured on many issues along party lines.
Keen observers of the court have pointed out some of the best qualities about Keeley.
Though she’s a Republican, she doesn’t let her party affiliation cloud her judgment when it comes to the law.
Keeley also has done a fine job of balancing compassion with protecting the public and sending policy messages through sentencing.
This is not the place for a purely political appointment.
While that could also be said about appointments for U.S. marshals and U.S. attorneys, it’s even more pivotal for a federal judge, who handles civil and criminal cases of the gravest importance.... Those who have practiced routinely and admirably in federal court on either side of the aisle also should receive ample consideration
Trump Is Disregarding Senate Norms to Get His Judges on the Bench (Center for American Progress, 05/12/17)
Jake Faleschini and Billy Corriher: Trump ignored the traditional vetting role of the American Bar Association, bypassed state judicial nominating commissions, and failed to consult with home-state senators.... Senators are in the best position to ensure that judicial nominees are well-respected in their local legal communities. ... Sens. Al Franken (D-MN) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) both released statements on Monday criticizing the administration for failing to consult with home-state senators about the recent slate of nominees.... Trump’s outsourced judicial selection process has led to several worrisome nominees.
Opinion: Why it would be bad for Trump to break up the 9th Circuit Court (San Jose Mercury News [CA], 05/12/17)
Ian Samuel and Brian Goldman: Since John Roberts became Chief Justice in 2005, the Ninth Circuit has never been the most-reversed court of appeals. Last year, it decided 6,896 cases; the Supreme Court reviewed just 11 of them, about 0.2 percent.
Even among the tiny handful of cases the Supreme Court chose to hear, it reversed in eight (about 72 percent). That’s in line with the Supreme Court’s fairly high rate of reversing all the courts it reviews (about 70 percent). ... the court’s scope is an enormous benefit. For one thing, it allows the West’s expansive federal lands and technology industry to enjoy one stable body of law administered by one court.... And the Ninth Circuit has used its resources to become the most accessible federal court in the country ... If the complaint is that the Ninth Circuit is “too liberal,” this is especially strange: it would create a new “Twelfth Circuit” with an even larger majority of judges appointed by Democratic presidents. ... Punishing an independent court because of partisan politics makes us queasy.... the Ninth Circuit has long protected the public from the government’s ill-reasoned fits of pique. We hope the public will return the favor this time.
[Editorial] Gazette opinion: Billings Welcomes Vice President Pence (Billings Gazette [MT,WY], 05/12/17)
"We don't think Montana interests will be well served by trying to split the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We can't help but see this move as a blatant power grab by the Trump administration to pack a new court, and exact revenge for unfavorable rulings to the Trump administration. Montana has been well served by the Ninth. We have had great representation there, and would point out that Chief Judge Sidney Thomas is from Billings."
Grassley Rewrites Senate History to Grease the Wheels for Trump’s Judges (Medium, 05/12/17)
Kyle Barry, LDF Policy Counsel: Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley has revealed that he is willing to trash longstanding Senate tradition and undermine his Senate colleagues to hand control of the federal courts over to President Donald Trump. Grassley said that he will allow Trump to go over the heads of Democratic senators to fill federal appeals court vacancies in their home states “because that’s the way it’s been.” Grassley’s statement is both historically inaccurate and dangerous .... Since 1951, only two judges have been confirmed despite a negative blue slip, and both were district court judges appointed by Republican presidents. Grassley’s predecessor, Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, applied the rule strictly and never held a confirmation hearing unless both home-state senators approved.... Indeed, four of the current circuit vacancies exist only because Republican senators refused to return blue slips for Obama nominees .... of the 17 total Obama nominees blocked by blue slips, just one was a white man; 10 were women and 10 were African American.
Grassley signals he'll selectively allow Democrats to have a say on federal judges (Daily Kos, 05/12/17)
Joan McCarter: Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) is uniquely capable of revising history and norms and traditions to fit whatever partisan agenda he has. An unprecedented Senate blockade of a completely qualified and non-controversial Supreme Court nominee? Sure, we can do that, because this is the last year of the president's term in office. That's completely normal, said Grassley of the Merrick Garland blockade. He's got a new one now, this time how it's customary to let home-state senators weigh in on some federal judges, but not others. In other words, he's going to let Donald Trump have his key judges, and pretend like he's still recognizing Judiciary tradition.
Trump judicial nominee John K. Bush has advocated stripping First Amendment protections from the press (Justice Watch, 05/11/17)
Lisa Nash: Bush, like Trump, believes New York Times v. Sullivan, the seminal case that articulated broad protections for members of the press covering public officials and actions, was wrongly decided.... at a 2009 Federal Society panel entitled The Constitution and the Importance of Interpretation: Original Meaning, after praising originalism, he discussed originalism’s application to the First Amendment. Bush emphasized “from an originalist perspective that New York Times v. Sullivan probably wasn’t correctly decided.”
Democrats Can’t Stop Trump’s Agenda. But They Can Block His Judicial Nominees. Get ready for a hugely consequential Senate fight over blue pieces of paper. (Huffington Post, 05/11/17)
Jennifer Bendery: Trump is close to nominating David Porter to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, a source familiar with the nomination process told HuffPost. President Barack Obama nearly nominated Porter, a Republican corporate attorney, to a district court in 2014 as part of a bipartisan package deal that also included Democratic judicial nominees. But progressive groups torpedoed that agreement by launching a campaign highlighting Porter’s ties to groups opposed to abortion rights, LGBTQ rights and gun control.
Porter’s nomination to the Third Circuit is expected to be announced in the next couple of weeks, per this source, and is being pushed by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), one of Porter’s home-state senators ... Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Porter’s other home-state senator, has warned the White House he’s prepared to withhold Porter’s blue slip if Trump nominates him.
Casey has “serious concerns” with this nomination, said the source.... Republicans abused the hell out of the blue-slip tradition during Obama’s presidency. In some cases, they refused to turn in blue slips for judicial nominees they previously supported, which contributed to the emergency level of vacancies on the federal bench today.
Toomey knows a thing or two about blue slips. He refused to turn in his blue slip for Obama’s nominee to the Third Circuit, Rebecca Haywood. As a result, she never got a committee hearing and her nomination was returned to Obama.... “Blue slips are one of the few weapons that are left to protect the minority’s rights,” said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor and an expert on the judicial nominations process. “They also protect home state senators’ prerogatives to affect who is nominated from their states, which could be important for GOP senators who disagree with Trump.”... “Don’t forget,” added Tobias, “that blue slips were honored all eight years of Obama’s tenure and have a 100-year history.”
Bob Casey ready to pick a blue-slip fight over the federal judiciary (Daily Kos, 05/11/17)
Joan McCarter: The lack of a blue slip has traditionally meant that that judge won't get a hearing. The current chairman, Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says he intends to honor that tradition. And Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is warning that he will exercise his right of refusal.... As of now, Republicans on the committee are saying they'll respect the blue-slip tradition. ... This is an issue Democrats must force.
PRESIDENT TRUMP NOMINATES JUDGES EVEN HE COULD LOVE (New Yorker, 05/11/17)
Jeffrey Toobin: “On Monday, President Trump announced his first group of lower-court nominations to the federal bench. The list illustrates how differently Democratic and Republican Presidents have approached the task of making judges: it comes down to ideology versus diversity. ... Republicans since Ronald Reagan have recognized the power of federal judges to move the country in a conservative direction. Trump’s nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court showed that the new President belongs to the same tradition, and his ten judicial nominees—five to the circuit courts of appeals and five to the district courts—reveal that he will continue to use the courts to advance his political agenda.”
Trump judicial nominee offered blueprint to allow Trump to target the press: Get ready to “open up our libel laws.” (Think Progress, 05/11/17)
Ian Millhiser: the Supreme Court put strict limits on when public figures could bring malicious libel suits against the press in its landmark New York Times. v. Sullivan case.
Trump, however, now wants to put someone on a powerful federal court who claimed that New York Times probably was “wrongly decided.”
John K. Bush is a Kentucky lawyer and the president of the Louisville chapter of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal group that plays a major role in selecting Trump’s judicial nominees. Trump nominated Bush to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.... Bush both endorsed originalism as his preferred method and named Sullivan as an example of a case that is not consistent with this method.
Trump Judicial Nominees (PrawfsBlawg, 05/10/17)
Prof. David Fontana: his judicial nominations so far have reflected what I blogged about previously: the strength of the judicial nominations part of his party.... I recently wrote an essay for a symposium in the Wisconsin Law Review about the relatively “cooperative” approach to judicial nominations utilized by the Obama Administration. The Obama Administration’s first nominee to the circuit courts was David Hamilton, a centrist district court judge in Indiana with established ties to both political parties. Hamilton was not particularly young, not particularly famous, and was the only circuit court nominee announced the day he was announced. By contrast, many of Trump’s nominees announced this week are very connected in the Republican Party, very young, and very known—and he announced ten nominees in one day.
Senate Democrats have the power to stop Trump's judge picks: Use it! (Daily Kos, 05/10/17)
Joan McCarter: Luckily, as of now, Democrats still have some power: the blue slip.... The custom in the Senate Judiciary Committee is for the chairman to hold off on bringing up nominees until their home-state senators sign off with so-called blue slips. Of course, the other tradition which Trump completely ignored in these cases is to get the names of his nominees through a negotiation process with those same senators. That's not what happened.
[Editorial] The diversity problem on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals (Minneapolis Star Tribune [MN], 05/10/17)
"we share the lament of the Infinity Project about lack of diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench. If confirmed, Stras will be the 63rd judge to serve on the court. All but two have been male; only one has been a person of color. That overrepresentation of white males is a problem for the courts that the Infinity Project was created to expose and solve. A grass-roots advocacy organization founded in Minnesota a decade ago, the project holds that the courts better serve the public when those on the bench bring a range of life experiences and are widely representative of society.... Three of the 10 judicial nominees Trump advanced Monday are women. We hope that means he’s not oblivious to the Infinity Project’s concerns, and that he will strive for more diversity on the Eighth Circuit bench with future nominations."
The Trump Judiciary (People For blog, 05/08/17)
Paul Gordon: Conservatives are hoping for nominees who will regularly favor the powerful and fail to recognize the constitutional values of equality and liberty.... In addition to the scrutiny usually given to nominees, we must also be on the lookout for efforts to not just create a right-wing judiciary, but a Trump Judiciary.
We must protect our federal courts, so that they can protect us. The records of all of today’s nominees must be examined very closely.
Trump has just begun massively reshaping American appeals courts (Vox, 05/08/17)
Dylan Matthews: By putting Larsen (who’s only 48), Stras (42), and Thapar (48) on appeals courts, Trump is further burnishing their credentials for future Supreme Court vacancies. ... Make no mistake: Larsen, Stras, and Thapar are all reliable conservatives. Larsen served in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in 2002-’03, when Jay Bybee and his deputy John Yoo were laying the groundwork for the Bush administration's torture regime. She also clerked for Antonin Scalia, and praised him in a eulogy for his conservative, textualist insistence that “statutes, cases and the Constitution were to be read for what they said, not for what the judges wished they would say.”
Stras's campaign site for reelection to the Minnesota Supreme Court stressed that he thought judges should "faithfully interpret and apply the Constitution and laws passed under the political process, not follow their own political leanings or personal preferences." Brian Fitzpatrick of Vanderbilt Law, who researches federal courts, told Bloomberg BNA that Thapar was "very Scalia-like and Thomas-like" in his jurisprudence.
And all three, tellingly, were included on Trump’s Supreme Court shortlist, which was compiled by the conservative Federalist Society’s Leonard Leo....There are now more than twice as many district and appeals court vacancies as when President Obama took office
Trump Is Going to Lose It When He Finds Out About This Obscure Senate Rule (New York Magazine, 05/08/17)
Ed Kilgore: Current Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, like his immediate Democratic predecessor Pat Leahy, has been a staunch defender of the blue slip tradition. ... Both Stras and Larsen are from states with two Democratic senators ... Grassley and other Republicans will have to decide whether their short-term interest abolishing the blue slip tradition outweighs their long-term interests in maintaining it for use against future Democratic presidents. And Democrats may figure out ways to use blue slips carefully and strategically to resist an ideological overhaul of the federal courts without unduly provoking Grassley
Fill judicial vacancies [Letter to the Editor] (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review [PA] , 05/03/17)
Kadida Kenner, Why Courts Matter-Pennsylvania: vacancies on our federal courts leads to large caseloads for sitting judges, which impedes the judicial process, and denies Pennsylvanians access to justice.
A district court seat in Erie has been vacant for nearly four years, although the Senate Judiciary Committee had unanimously approved nominee Susan Baxter to advance to a full Senate vote in 2015. Baxter's nomination languished for nearly a year on the Senate floor, and eventually expired.
Now is the time for Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to continue their highly touted bipartisan relationship as it relates to filling Pennsylvania's federal court seats.
Both senators must ensure the Trump administration renominates their agreed-upon nominees, including Pennsylvania Judges Susan Baxter, Robert Colville, Marilyn Horan and John M. Younge.
If Toomey and Casey want to work effectively on behalf of their constituents, they'll ensure the Trump administration moves quickly to fill these seats with the consensus nominees.
The White House’s Threats to First Amendment Protections Remind Us that Courts Matter (People For blog, 05/02/17)
Paul Gordon: Our federal court system has protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press in decisions such as Sullivan. That system is made up of hundreds of federal judges serving on district courts, circuit courts, and the Supreme Court. Who they are has always mattered, but perhaps never more than now.
Trump has over 100 federal court vacancies to fill, and rumors are flying that Justice Kennedy may step down.
The fate of our democracy may very well depend on who fills those vacancies.
Federal court seats remain open (Bucks County Courier Times [PA], 05/02/17)
Letter to the Editor by Kadida Kenner, Why Courts Matter-PA: Having vacancies on our federal courts leads to large caseloads for sitting judges, which impedes the judicial process and denies Pennsylvanians access to justice. A district court seat in Erie has been vacant for nearly four years, although the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved nominee Susan Baxter, a United States magistrate judge from the Western District of Pennsylvania, to advance to a full Senate vote in 2015. ... Now is the time for our home state senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, to continue their highly touted bipartisan relationship as it relates to filling Pennsylvania's federal court seats. Both senators must ensure the Trump administration renominates their agreed-upon nominees, including Pennsylvania Judges Susan Baxter, Robert Colville, Marilyn Horan and John M. Younge. If Sens. Toomey and Casey want to work effectively on behalf of their constituents, they'll ensure the Trump administration moves quickly to fill Pennsylvania's vacant federal judgeships with the consensus nominees, which they've already agreed on.
Casey, Toomey should push to renominate judges (Erie Times-News [PA], 05/02/17)
Kadida Kenner, Why Courts Matter, Letter to the Editor: In Pennsylvania, there are nine open federal courts seats, two of which are on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Having vacancies on our federal courts leads to large caseloads for sitting judges, which impedes the judicial process and denies Pennsylvanians access to justice. A district court seat in Erie has been vacant for nearly four years although the Senate Judiciary Committee had unanimously approved nominee Susan Paradise Baxter, a United States magistrate judge from the Western District of Pennsylvania to advance to a full Senate vote in 2015. Baxter’s nomination languished for nearly a year on the Senate floor, and eventually expired.
Now is the time for our home-state senators, Bob Casey and Pat Toomey, to continue their highly touted bipartisan relationship as it relates to filling Pennsylvania’s federal court seats. Both senators must ensure the Trump administration renominates their agreed-upon nominees, Pennsylvania Judges Baxter, Robert Colville, Marilyn Horan and John M. Younge.
Why Trump should fill all of Texas' judicial vacancies with women (Dallas Morning News, 05/01/17)
Commentary by Amanda Sharp Hinson, former aide to Sen. Cornyn: Trump will rely on Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, in consultation with the state's bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, to recruit, vet and propose Texans suitable for lifetime appointment to the federal courts.
They should choose women, so that justice is dispensed from a bench that looks more like the population of lawyers and litigants it serves. ... in Texas today, women hold only 23 percent of federal district court seats. Even if Trump filled every single vacancy in Texas district courts with a woman, women would still make up only 44 percent of active Texas federal judges.
Choose women to demonstrate that the legal profession is not an ossified "old boys" club .... There is no better way to fuel the opposition's fire than to insult half of the population — and half of the party — by not proactively correcting the gender imbalance in the courts.
Can Trump ‘absolutely’ break up a federal court that’s standing in his way? (Washington Post, 04/28/17)
Amber Phillips: there are ways he can work with Congress to split up a federal court — doing it just might be more trouble than it's worth.... Ask almost any lawmaker in Washington, and they'll say an independent judiciary is good for democracy. And they'll also say that politicians who tried to exert their power over the courts are bad for democracy. ... Today, it's difficult to see how Congress — which is controlled by Republicans — convinces Americans they are breaking up this court for any reason other than to help create a more favorable judicial landscape for the president.
Trump’s first lower court nominee would nuke campaign finance laws: Anyone want to buy an election? (Think Progress, 04/28/17)
Ian Millhiser: Thapar authored an opinion suggesting that he would eviscerate what remains of the law limiting the influence of money on politics. Indeed, Thapar’s decision in Winter v. Wolnitzek reached so far beyond existing precedent that much of it was reversed by a panel that included two conservative George W. Bush-appointees. [His] analysis isn’t just wrong — it is obviously wrong under well-established Supreme Court precedent.... Thapar’s logic is that speech is identical to spending for purposes of the First Amendment. But if that were true, individual contribution limits would be unconstitutional.
Toomey, Casey must work to fill vacant judgeships | Letter (Express-Times [PA], 04/28/17)
Kadida Kenner, Why Courts Matter/PA: In Pennsylvania, there are nine open federal courts seats, two on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
Vacancies on our federal courts leads to large caseloads for sitting judges, which impedes the judicial process and denies Pennsylvanians access to justice. A district court seat in Erie has been vacant for nearly four years although the Senate Judiciary Committee had unanimously approved nominee Susan Baxter, a federal magistrate judge from the Western District of Pennsylvania .... Now is the time for Sens. Bob Casey and Pat Toomey to continue their highly touted bipartisan relationship as it relates to filling Pennsylvania's federal court seats. They must ensure the Trump administration renominates their agreed-upon nominees including Pennsylvania judges, Baxter, Robert Colville, Marilyn Horan and John M. Younge.
If Toomey and Casey want to work effectively on behalf of their constituents, they'll ensure the Trump administration moves quickly to fill Pennsylvania's vacant federal judgeships with the consensus nominees, of which they already agreed upon.