by Fred Lucas
President Donald Trump is completing a strong week, and is set to kick off a strong next week, in his push to reshape the federal courts, with Senate Republicans forcing votes on six more of his judicial nominees.
Despite the Democratic minority in the Senate using procedures to delay many confirmation votes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have prioritized pushing through appeals court judges, and 2017 was a record year for confirmations.
“This week, the Senate will consider another slate of extremely well-qualified nominees for seats on the federal bench,” McConnell said in a statement Monday. “A thoughtful, independent, and expert judiciary is a cornerstone of our constitutional order. It’s been the case since the very beginning.”
Moreover, six of the 16 of the Trump-nominated circuit court judges confirmed have replaced Democratic appointees, Axios reported.
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That’s important because circuit courts are the final stop for a case before it reaches the Supreme Court. In cases the high court declines to hear, the circuit courts are the last word.
Several of the nominees to be voted on this week have has distinguished careers, including working for the White House or for one-time independent counsel Kenneth Starr in the 1990s. Others were federal prosecutors or lower court judges.
“The president is having a particularly significant impact on the 7th Circuit,” Carrie Severino, chief counsel for the Judicial Crisis Network, told The Daily Signal, referring to the Chicago-based federal appeals court. “He’ll almost have a Trump class of appointees on that court.”
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals hears cases arising in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin.
“Only one circuit, the 3rd Circuit, is shifting the balance of power” from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority, Severino said, referring to the Philadelphia-based appeals court, which handles cases from Delaware, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.
Still, Severino noted that other circuits are seeing considerable movement.
For example, the New York-based 2nd Circuit, currently with a 7-4 Democratic appointee advantage would move to a 7-6 Democratic edge if all of Trump’s nominees are confirmed, she said. The 2nd Circuit covers Connecticut and Vermont, as well as New York.
The famously liberal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, could go from a 16-6 Democratic advantage to a 16-13 Democratic edge if all of Trump’s nominees are confirmed, Severino said.
The 9th Circuit has jurisdiction over cases arising from not just California, but also Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington.
Here are the six judicial nominees expected to be confirmed by the end of the week.
1. Bush White House Lawyer
Senate action is pending this week on Michael Y. Scudder to be a judge on the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago. Trump nominated him in February.
The vote on his nomination was scheduled to Monday.
Scudder has worked at the Washington-based law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP since 2009.
Scudder spent two years in the White House Counsel’s Office during the administration of President George W. Bush, serving as associate counsel and then as senior associate counsel to the president and legal adviser and general counsel to the National Security Council.
Before that, Scudder spent four years at the Justice Department, first as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York and later as counsel to the deputy attorney general on a national security team.
A graduate of Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law,
he previously clerked for Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.
2. Whitewater Prosecutor
As of Thursday, Amy J. St. Eve’s nomination to be a judge for the 7th Circuit in Chicago is still pending. Trump nominated her in February.
Her confirmation vote was also bumped to Monday, but she will bypass a cloture vote.
A Bush appointee to the bench confirmed by the Senate in 2002, St. Eve is currently a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Illinois.
Before becoming a federal judge, she served as senior counsel for litigation at Abbott Laboratories after a stint as a federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Illinois.
St. Eve served for two years as an associate independent counsel for the Whitewater independent counsel’s investigation in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she helped oversee the successful prosecution of former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Jim McDougal and Susan McDougal for fraud.
She is a graduate of Cornell Law School.
3. Chief Judge in Louisiana
The Senate voted 62-34 on Wednesday to confirm Kurt Engelhardt to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Trump nominated him in September to the court, which hears appeals arising from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas.
Engelhardt, who has served as the chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, was a 2001 appointee of Bush.
While serving as a federal judge, Engelhardt was a member of the Judicial Conference Committee on Federal-State Jurisdiction, first named to the panel by then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist in 2004 and reappointed for a second term by Chief Justice John Roberts in 2007.
He was also president of the New Orleans chapter of the Federal Bar Association from 2011 to 2012.
Before becoming a judge, he was in private practice first at the Metairie, Louisiana-based Hailey, McNamara, Hall, Larmann & Papale LLP. While in private practice, he served on the Louisiana Judiciary Commission, which adjudicates statewide ethics complaints against judges, and became chairman of the commission in 1998.
He is a graduate of Louisiana State University.
4. Federal Judge From New Mexico
The Senate voted Thursday to end debate over the nomination of Joel M. Carson III to be a judge on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Trump nominated Carson in December to the court, whose jurisdiction encompasses Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wyoming.
His confirmation vote is scheduled for Tuesday.
Carson has served as a part-time magistrate judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico since 2015 and as a partner in the Roswell, New Mexico-based law firm of Carson Ryan LLC.
Carson previously served for five years as general counsel for Mack Energy Corp. Before that, he was in private practice for nine years with the firm Hinkle Shanor LLP with offices in Roswell, Santa Fe, and Albuquerque, New Mexico.
He is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law.
5. Former Milwaukee Prosecutor
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Michael B. Brennan in a 49-46 party-line vote to be a judge on the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago. Trump nominated him to the bench in August.
The controversy was largely over the “blue slip” rule that gives home state senators effective vetoes. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., opposed the nomination.
Brennan is a partner in the Milwaukee law firm Gass Weber Mullins LLC, where he tries cases involving commercial and tort disputes. He also serves as a mediator and an arbitrator.
Before private practice, Brennan served nine years as a judge on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Before serving as a judge, he prosecuted cases as an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County.
Brennan is a graduate of Northwestern University School of Law.
6. State Justice Reformer
The Senate also moved to end debate on John B. Nalbandian to serve on the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Trump nominated him in January to the court, which covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee.
The Senate is expected to vote on Nalbandian’s nomination Tuesday.
Nalbandian is a partner in the litigation practice group of the Ohio-based Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP, where he has worked since 2000, specializing in appellate cases.
In 2010, the Senate confirmed him to serve as a board member of the State Justice Institute, a nonprofit organization established by the federal government to improve the administration of justice in state courts.
In 2007, then-Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher named him as a special justice to the Kentucky Supreme Court in a case where a sitting justice had to recuse.
He has also served on the Magistrate Judge Merit Selection Panel for the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, as a board member of the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development, and as a member of the Telecommunications Board of Northern Kentucky.
Nalbandian is also a board member of the Greater Cincinnati Minority Counsel Program and of the Asian Pacific Bar Association of Southwest Ohio.
He is a graduate the University of Virginia School of Law.
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