President Donald Trump released his eleventh wave of judicial nominees Monday, submitting candidates for three powerful federal appeals courts.
The nominations could precipitate a conflict with Senate Democrats, as several nominees were named to vacancies in states represented by prominent liberals.
The nominees include Andrew Oldham for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Amy St. Eve and Michael Scudder Jr. for the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Mark Bennett for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Circuit courts are appeals panels that supervise federal trial courts. They make the final decision on the overwhelming majority of cases in the federal system. The 5th Circuit is based in New Orleans, La., the 7th Circuit is based in Chicago, Ill., and the 9th Circuit is based in San Francisco, Calif. The 5th and 7th Circuits each cover three states while the 9th Circuit covers nine states.
Oldham is currently general counsel to Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. A graduate of Harvard Law School who clerked for Justice Samuel Alito, Oldham served in the Justice Department from 2006 to 2008 and practiced appellate law at Kellogg Hansen Todd Figel & Frederick, a well-regarded litigation boutique. Given Abbott’s support and his sterling credentials, Oldham was widely considered a front-runner for the appointment.
St. Eve and Scudder have similarly rarified resumes. St. Eve is currently a judge on the Chicago federal trial court. Prior to her appointment, she was a federal prosecutor, served on Ken Starr’s investigation of the Whitewater affair, and practiced at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell Law School and teaches at the at the Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Scudder held senior posts in the George W. Bush administration and clerked for Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Bennett was a federal prosecutor and attorney general of Hawaii before becoming a director at Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher, a Honolulu-based law firm. Some libertarian court-watchers expressed reservations about his appointment, as he defended the state’s right to impose limits on corporate oil rents before the Supreme Court in 2005.
St. Eve, Scudder, and Bennett were tapped for seats in states with two Democratic senators. By longstanding convention, the Senate Judiciary Committee does not hold confirmation hearings until the two senators representing the state where a particular vacancy arises turn in their “blue slips,” which indicate whether they will support or oppose the nominee. As such, senators effectively have a veto power over nominees selected for judgeships in their states, as a confirmation hearing will not be scheduled for as long as they withhold their blue slips.
The blue slip tradition, which is not part of the Senate’s official rules, has lapsed for short periods in recent decades. GOP Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled hearings for Michael Brennan, a nominee to the 7th Circuit, and Judge David Stras, who was recently confirmed to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, despite objections from home state senators.
It is not yet clear whether the relevant Democrats will oppose the nominees.
The president also named nominees to federal trial courts in Iowa, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
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