Judicial Nominations

Third Circuit 3rd circuit 3d circuit 3d cir.jpegA few quick updates on our former stomping grounds, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit:
1. There’s been some speculation about who might be nominated for the Third Circuit seat previously held by Justice Alito. What we’re now hearing is that it’s probably going to Judge Noel Hillman, a former high-ranking Justice Department official, just confirmed to the District Court (D.N.J.).
This might be surprising, considering that Judge Hillman has barely warmed the district court bench. His investiture as a district judge took place only a few weeks ago.
Noel Hillman Noel L Hillman Noel Lawrence Hillman Noel Laurence Hillman judge Above the Law.jpgBut nominating Judge Hillman to the court of appeals actually makes political sense for the White House — especially in its current, weakened state. President Bush doesn’t have a great deal of political capital right now, and he’ll be dealing with a Democrat-controlled Senate come January (assuming Sen. Johnson hangs in there).
Picking a nominee who made it through the Senate just a few months ago would be a shrewd move. Since the two New Jersey senators supported Hillman for the district court, it would be awkward for them to oppose him for the circuit court now.
Of course, this is just a rumor. And rumors can be wrong. So stay tuned.
2. Judge Kent Jordan, formerly on the Delaware district court bench, was sworn in as the newest Third Circuit judge on Friday morning. The ceremony was small and private. Judge Jordan was confirmed by the Senate earlier this month, by a vote of 91-0, before the end of the 109th Congress.
3. Another Third Circuit nominee, Judge Thomas Hardiman (W.D. Pa.), may not be as easy a sell as one might have thought. Senate Democrats are tut-tutting him for making political contributions to Republican candidates before he was nominated for his district judgeship.
Call us cynical, but this strikes us as no big deal. Making (perfectly legal) campaign contributions to U.S. senators? How else do you become a federal judge?
Seriously, this is not a new practice. Political patronage goes back to, like, the Jackson Administration. And strategic campaign giving has been engaged in by judicial nominees on both sides of the aisle (PDF).
This is why we were unimpressed with Salon’s “four-month investigation” showing that, lo and behold, politicians reward their contributors with federal judgeships. We could have told you that in four seconds.
Noel L. Hillman bio [FJC]
Senate Confirms Kent Jordan to 3rd Circuit, Replacing Senior Judge Jane Roth [Legal Intelligencer]
Judge Kent Jordan Confirmed to the Third Circuit [How Appealing]
Kent A. Jordan bio [FJC]
Another Bush judge on the hot seat [Salon.com via How Appealing]
Thomas M. Hardiman bio [FJC]
Riding Circuit — In a Taxicab? [Underneath Their Robes]
Non-Scandal [Committee for Justice Blog]

Confirmation Wars Ben Wittes Benjamin Wittes Above the Law.jpgHey, guess what? In our best impression of Howard Bashman, we’re going to tell you all about a recent lunch of ours.
On Tuesday, we had an absolutely delightful lunch with Benjamin Wittes. He’s an editorial writer for the Washington Post, specializing in legal affairs, and the author of a new book about the judicial confirmation process: Confirmation Wars: Preserving Independent Courts in Angry Times.
We recommend Confirmation Wars most highly. It’s tremendously well-researched, as well as fascinating and fun to read. (Even the footnotes are juicy.) It has the rigor of an academic book — it’s published in connection with the Hoover Institution at Stanford — but the readability of, well, a non-academic book. And it came out after the Roberts and Alito confirmations were concluded, so it’s informed by those recent experiences.
Wittes ably diagnoses the problems with the current judicial nomination and confirmation process, then offers up some solutions. And he’s commendably fair-minded and non-ideological in his assessment of a highly controversial subject. (To learn more about the substantive views expressed in the book, check out this article, from the Harvard Law Record.)
Starting in January, Wittes will be away from the Post. He’s going on a six-month book leave, to work on his next project: a book about the federal appeals court. We can’t wait to read it!
In case you’re wondering, we lunched at Georgia Brown’s, just down the street from the Post offices. We both had the soup special — black bean, if memory serves — and the fried chicken salad, which was scrumptious, even if not very healthy for a salad. And we gossiped incessantly about federal judges and judicial nominees. What a blast!!!
Confirmation Wars: Preserving Independent Courts in Angry Times [Amazon.com]
Confirmation Wars: Ben Wittes on How to Preserve Judicial Independence [Harvard Law Record]

Capitol building Above the Law Legal Blog 2.JPGVia Howard Bashman, we learned of the cancellation of tomorrow’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. This piqued our curiosity: What was the hearing for, and why was it canceled?
So we did a little poking around. We learned that the SJC was planning to hold confirmation hearings for an “unspecified handful of district court nominees.” But since these nominations “were going nowhere fast,” in the final week of the 109th Congress, the cancellation is really “no big deal.”
Meanwhile, in other nomination-related news, Sean Rushton — executive director of the Committee for Justice, which crosses swords with Nan Aron “promotes constitutionalist judicial nominees” — is stepping down. He’s leaving for a position with the Bush Administration.
Rushton will be replaced by Curt Levey, who has served as CFJ’s general counsel since the summer of 2005 (and who also blogs over at ConfirmThem, an excellent source of nomination news and gossip). Congratulations to Curt on his new position!
NOTICE OF COMMITTEE HEARING CANCELLATION [Senate Judiciary Committee via How Appealing]
Changes at CFJ [Confirm Them]
CFJ Announces Curt Levey as Executive Director [Committee for Justice]

William Wilkins William W Wilkins Jr Billy Wilkins.JPGLast week was a busy one in legal news, so we apologize for our tardiness in bringing you this news. As first reported at the South Carolina Appellate Law Blog, and later picked up by The State, Chief Judge William Wilkins is retiring as chief judge of the Fourth Circuit.

William “Billy” Wilkins of Greenville is stepping down as chief judge of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, a position he has held since 2003….

Wilkins, 64, in a prepared statement Thursday afternoon said he had notified President Bush of his decision to step down effective July 1, 2007.

“It’s time to move on,” he said.

The obvious questions. First, who will replace him as Chief Judge?

Under federal seniority rules, his successor would be Karen Williams of Orangeburg, who would become the first woman to hold that position in the circuit. Williams, 55, is the next senior judge younger than 65.

Karen Williams Karen J Williams Above the Law.jpgJudge Williams, you may recall, is a judicial hottie, described by the New York Times as “a tall, slender woman with delicate features and a regal carriage.” Rumored to have both a private plane and a personal shopper, the stylish Judge Williams is known around her hometown of Orangeburg as “Miss Karen.”
(Yes, she’s married. But as a fellow South Carolina native explains, “the first thing one must learn about Orangeburg is that every woman is referred to as Miss,” regardless of her marital status.)
And who might be nominated to the Fourth Circuit to fill the new vacancy on the court? Some speculation appears after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Chief Judge Wilkins Makes Way for “Miss Karen””

stack of bills cash money.jpg* It’s all about the benjamins, baby. Bonus season is upon us. And we’re standing by to broadcast every move. So please email us with any news, rumors, and leaked memos about bonuses.
* Truthful tips are especially welcome. Look for the first wave of bonus announcements in the coming week.
* And check out the most anal retention letter ever.
* In non-Biglaw developments, it was a busy week for the Supreme Court. They heard all about EPA regulatory discretion, the Federal Circuit’s recondite jurisprudence, and other fun topics.
* On tap for the SCOTUS: Ken Starr and a bizarrely fascinating case. It’s like Bill ‘n Monica, all over again. But is it sexy enough for same-day audio-cast? Probably not.
* Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the imminent Democratic takeover is already being felt at the Senate Judiciary Committee. The big white-collar shops are eagerly anticipating lots of new business.
* Speaking of elections, please cast your vote for November 2006 Couple of the Month. And if you’re an NYU Law School student, please forward us the results of voting in the 3L hottie contest.
* In federal appellate judge news, Judge Morris Arnold is recovering nicely, Judge Richard Posner is getting testy, and Judge Frank Easterbrook is now Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook.
* And over in the district court, Judge Lee Rosenthal (S.D. Tex.) is probably out of the running for a promotion to the Fifth Circuit (despite being very highly regarded).
* Finally, in state court land, some judges are getting a little big for their britches robes. They’re mouthing off, railing against immigrants, and making spectacles of themselves. Pipe down, Your Honors, and stay out of trouble.

Arlen Specter 2 Senator Arlen Specter Above the Law.jpgHere’s another excellent article from Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker. It’s about the role played by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), outgoing chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, with respect to the recent habeas corpus legislation (aka the Military Commissions Act of 2006).
If you’re confused about the controversy over this legislation, which has wound its way through both the federal courts and the Senate chamber, the article is well worth your time. It explains recent developments in this complex area of law with commendable clarity.
And it also contains fun bits of color and gossip. We collect a few highlights, after the jump.

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Lee H Rosenthal Judge Lee Rosenthal Above the Law.jpgBefore the Thanksgiving break, we wrote a fair amount about some possible nominees to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. We’ll now pick up where we left off, and continue with more detailed profiles of some of the potential nominees we mentioned.
But first, a request. A number of ATL readers have expressed interest in speculation about nominees for the open seats on the Third Circuit (Justice Samuel Alito’s old seat) and Fourth Circuit (Judge J. Michael Luttig’s old seat). If you’ve heard anything interesting on these subjects, please do share.
Today’s possible Fifth Circuit nominee: Judge Lee H. Rosenthal, of the Southern District of Texas. Here are some things we’ve heard from our readers about Judge Rosenthal:

“Best judge on the S.D. Tex. bench, which is actually passably deep. Sweet, rational, bright and tough all in one package.”

“The country could not do better, and I think even hyperpartisan Democrats would be able to see that. She’s my pick if Bush wants to avoid spending any significant political capital.”

“A stellar trial judge who would make a superlative appellate judge. And those two don’t always go hand in hand. See, e.g., Ann Claire Williams of the 7th Circuit (who should have remained an excellent district judge instead of becoming a thoroughly mediocre appellate jurist).”

(Judge Williams, if you’re reading this, please note that these are simply opinions from ATL readers. They do NOT represent our own views.)
More comments about Judge Rosenthal, from the readers of Grits for Breakfast:

“Several readers identified Rosenthal… as an] exceptional, fair, and qualified judge[].”

“One reader feared losing Judge Rosenthal or Judge Elrod as trial judges, and suggested Rosenthal deserved a 5th Circuit appointment and Elrod should fill her federal district court slot.”

“Lee Rosenthal is by far and away the most learned Judge I have ever practiced before. She seems to be fair, well-reasoned and straightforward.”

So given all this praise, why did we place Judge Rosenthal in the second tier of possible nominees — an “outside possibility” for the Fifth Circuit?
Well, to make a long story short, we hear that some conservatives are concerned about her “reliability” (i.e., her ideological consistency). And even though the new Senate will be controlled by the Democrats, the White House and the Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee do not feel compelled to put forward nominees whose conservatism is even slightly in question.
(At least not yet. It remains to be seen whether the scrappy Chuck Schumer, aided by Nan Aron and friends, will wear them down over time.)
What do you know about these potential 5th Circuit nominees? [Grits for Breakfast]
Earlier: More Fifth Circuit Scuttlebutt: R. Ted Cruz
Some Fifth Circuit Scuttlebutt

Back in this comment, Sean Fitzpatrick pointed out a fun fact:

One of those “not so sexy” district court nominations [to be submitted to the lame duck Congress] is of former U.S. Representative Jim Rogan (R-CA), who served as lead prosecutor in Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the U.S. Senate.

This escaped our notice, but not that of Al Kamen, of the Washington Post. From In the Loop (a Beltway must-read):

[O]ne of Bush’s nominees, a former House member from California and a “manager” in the effort to impeach and remove President Bill Clinton from office, could very well be confirmed to a federal judgeship, even under a Democratic Senate next year.

James Rogan, who lost his seat in 2000 because of voter unhappiness over his impeachment efforts, was later confirmed by the Senate to head the Patent and Trademark Office. He’s now a Los Angeles lawyer.

And, oddly enough, Rogan’s got support from an unusual group of Clinton backers, including a California judicial vetting committee with members picked by liberal Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer.

Kamen wonders: Will Senatrix Hillary Clinton (D-NY) vote for the man who tried to get her and her husband evicted from the White House? She’s known to bear grudges (and voted repeatedly against Michael Chertoff, when he was nominated for executive and judicial branch posts, because of his involvement in the Whitewater investigation).
But then again, check out this cheery photograph of the Clintons and the Rogans, from a White House Christmas party in 1999:
James Rogan Hillary Clinton Above the Law.jpg

Hillary’s bustline is somewhat drooping in the pic. But that’s not Rogan’s fault, is it?
On Deck Again: One of Democrats’ Favorite Clinton Foes [Washington Post]

This is a continuation of our prior post about the annual dinner of the Federalist Society. You can read the rest of it after the jump.

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “From the Belly of the Beast: An Evening With Scalito (Part 2)”

Arlen Specter 2 Senator Arlen Specter Above the Law.jpgLast week we briefly discussed the appearance at the Federalist Society convention of Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), outgoing chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. We also described our exchange with him during the question-and-answer session.
We now provide you with a somewhat more detailed account of Senator Specter’s remarks. We found them surprisingly funny; but don’t get your hopes THAT high (because some of them were of a “you had to be there” nature).
Our write-up of Senator Specter’s speech, after the jump.

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