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Brittony Maag

Brittony Maag is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics releases December 2020 unemployment data

On January 8, 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released its unemployment data for December 2020. The unemployment rate for December was 6.7%, the same rate that was reported for November 2020. The year’s highest unemployment rate was recorded in April 2020 at 14.8%; the year’s lowest reported rate was 3.5% in both January and February 2020.

The average yearly unemployment rate for 2020 was 8.1%. This is the highest average yearly rate since 2012 when it also equaled 8.1%. The highest average yearly rate over the past decade (2010-2020) was 9.6% in 2010. The lowest average rate over the past decade was 3.7% in 2019.

The BLS began collecting monthly unemployment data in 1948. The bureau classifies people as unemployed if they do not have a job, have actively looked for a job in the past four weeks, and are available for work—or if they are waiting to be recalled to a job from which they were temporarily laid off. The BLS uses data from the monthly Current Population Survey (CPS) conducted by the United States Census Bureau. The survey collects data each month from 60,000 households—approximately 110,000 individuals—selected from a sample of 800 geographic areas designed by the Census Bureau to represent each state and the District of Columbia.

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Trump has appointed second-most federal judges through December 31 of a president’s fourth year

Donald Trump has appointed and the U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 Article III federal judges through December 31, 2020, his fourth year in office. This is the second-most Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since Jimmy Carter (D). The Senate had confirmed 261 of Carter’s appointees at this point in his term.

The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through December 31 of their fourth year in office is 205.

The median number of Supreme Court justices appointed is two. President Donald Trump (R) has appointed three Supreme Court justices. Presidents Barack Obama (D), Bill Clinton (D), and George H.W. Bush (R) had each appointed two Supreme Court justices at this point in their first terms. Ronald Reagan (R) had appointed one, while Carter and George W. Bush (R) had not appointed any.

The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees is 35. Carter appointed the most with 56, and Presidents Clinton and Obama appointed the fewest with 30 each. Trump’s 54 appointments make up 30.2% of the total 179 judgeships across the courts of appeal.

The median number of United States District Court appointees is 168. Carter appointed the most with 202, and President Reagan appointed the fewest with 129. Trump has appointed 174 district court judges so far. Those appointments make up 25.7% of the 678 judgeships across the district courts.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the: Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

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U.S. Senate confirms Court of Federal Claims nominee

On December 19, 2020, the U.S. Senate confirmed Thompson Michael Dietz to the United States Court of Federal Claims by a vote of 51–36. He was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on July 2, 2020, and will join the court upon receiving his judicial commission and taking his judicial oath. Dietz was nominated to replace Judge Victor J. Wolski, who assumed senior status on July 13, 2018.

The United States Court of Federal Claims is an Article I tribunal, a federal court organized under Article I of the U.S. Constitution.

After Dietz receives his judicial commission, the 16-member Court of Federal Claims will have:

  • Five vacancies
  • Eight Republican-appointed judges
  • Three Democrat-appointed judges

In addition to Dietz, President Trump has appointed seven judges to the court. Another five Trump-appointed nominees are pending. President Barack Obama (D) appointed three judges to the court.

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Melissa Standridge sworn in as Kansas Supreme Court justice

Melissa Standridge was sworn in on Dec. 14 as a justice on the Kansas Supreme Court. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) appointed Standridge on Nov. 30 to succeed Justice Carol Beier, who retired on Sept. 18. Standridge was Gov. Kelly’s third nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Under Kansas law, the governor selects a supreme court justice from a list submitted by the Kansas Supreme Court Nominating Commission.

Prior to her appointment, Standridge was a judge on the Kansas Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2020. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D). Before that, Standridge was chambers counsel for Magistrate Judge David Waxse of the United States District Court for the District of Kansas from 1999 to 2008; an attorney for Shook, Hardy & Bacon from 1995 to 1999; and chambers counsel for Judge Elmo Hunter of the United States District Court for the Western District of Missouri from 1993 to 1995.

Standridge earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Kansas in 1984. She received a J.D. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, where she served as the editor-in-chief of the Law Review.

In 2020, there have been 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, one vacancy occurred when a justice was not retained, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Robert Carter fills vacancy on Illinois Supreme Court

Robert L. Carter became a justice of the Illinois Supreme Court on December 8, 2020. Carter was nominated to the court on November 10 to replace former Justice Thomas Kilbride, who lost the seat after failing to meet the 60% vote threshold required by Illinois law for judges to remain on the bench. Kilbride received 56.5% of the vote in his retention election on November 3. 

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court appoints its own interim members in the event of a vacancy, as in this case. Justice Carter will serve until December 5, 2022, when he will be required to run in a partisan election for the seat. The winner of that election will serve a full 10-year term on the seven-member supreme court. Including Carter, four justices joined the court through appointment; the other three justices were elected.

Prior to his appointment to the Illinois Supreme Court, Carter was a judge of the Illinois Third District Appellate Court from 2006 to 2020. He was appointed to the position to succeed Judge Tobias Barry. Before that, Carter was a judge of the Illinois 13th Circuit Court from 1979 to 2006. He became the chief judge in 1993.

Carter obtained an A.B. in 1968 and a J.D. in 1974 from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. He also received his M.A. in administration from Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois, Springfield) in 1974. Before attending graduate and law school, he served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1969 and 1970.

In 2020, there have been 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, one vacancy occurred when a justice was not retained, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Two judicial nominees confirmed to federal district courts

On December 1, 2020, the U.S. Senate confirmed two nominees to federal district court judgeships. Philip Calabrese was confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by a vote of 58–35. Taylor McNeel was confirmed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi by a vote of 53–39. Both judges will join the respective courts upon receiving their judicial commissions and taking their judicial oaths.

Philip Calabrese was nominated to the Northern District of Ohio court by President Donald Trump (R) on March 3, 2020, to replace Judge Christopher Boyko, who assumed senior status on January 6, 2020. Calabrese had his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 29, 2020. The committee voted 12–10 to advance Calabrese’s nomination to the full U.S. Senate on September 17, 2020.

The Northern District of Ohio has 11 judicial positions. After Calabrese receives commission, the court will have:

  • No vacancies
  • Six Democrat-appointed judges
  • Five Republican-appointed judges

Calabrese will join two other Trump-appointed judges on the court. Four judges were appointed by President Bill Clinton (D), two were appointed by President Barack Obama (D), and two were appointed by President George W. Bush (R).

Taylor McNeel was nominated to the Southern District of Mississippi court by Trump on July 2, 2020, to replace Judge Louis Guirola, who assumed senior status on March 23, 2018. McNeel had his hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 9, 2020. The committee voted 12–0 to advance McNeel’s nomination to the full U.S. Senate on October 22, 2020. No Democratic committee members were present to advance his nomination.

The Southern District of Mississippi has six judicial positions. After McNeel receives commission, the court will have:

  • No vacancies
  • One Democrat-appointed judge
  • Five Republican-appointed judges

McNeel will join one other Trump-appointed judge on the court. One judge was appointed by Obama, two were appointed by George W. Bush, and one was appointed by President Ronald Reagan (R). 

Since taking office, Trump has nominated 275 individuals to federal judgeships, 229 of whom have been confirmed. As of December 1, 2020, there were 60 vacancies in the federal judiciary with 48 pending nominations.

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Hawaii senate confirms Eddins to state supreme court

Image of the Hawaii Supreme Court building in Honolulu.

On November 19, 2020, the Hawaii State Senate confirmed Todd Eddins to succeed Justice Richard W. Pollack on the Hawaii Supreme Court. Gov. David Ige (D) appointed Eddins to the court on October 23, 2020. Eddins is Ige’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

The seat became vacant when Pollack retired on June 30, 2020, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.

Under Hawaii law, state supreme court justices are selected through the assisted appointment method. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating commission. The nominee requires confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate.

Eddins became a judge of the O’ahu First Circuit of Hawaii in 2017 after being appointed by Gov. Ige on February 9. The Hawaii State Senate confirmed Eddins on March 3, 2017.

Before his appointment to the O’ahu First Circuit, Eddins worked as a trial lawyer for the Office of the Public Defender. He also served as a clerk for Justice Yoshimi Hayashi of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Eddins earned an undergraduate degree from the College of William & Mary and a J.D. from the University of Hawaii, where he was the executive editor of the University of Hawaii Law Review.

The Hawaii Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of October 2020, three judges on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor, and one judge on the court was appointed by a Republican governor.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Washington Supreme Court sets timeline for appeal of recall petition against Seattle councilmember

The Washington Supreme Court will consider the appeal of a recall petition against Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant before the end of the year. Sawant filed an appeal in October after a superior court judge certified that four of the six grounds in the recall petition against her were legally sufficient to move the recall forward to the signature-gathering phase. On November 12, the Washington Supreme Court issued a timeline for the appeal: Sawant’s opening brief is due to the court by November 23, petitioners’ response is due on December 3, and Sawant’s reply is due by December 10. The court expects to rule on the appeal by January 7, 2021.

Sawant represents District 3 on the Seattle City Council. Though the office is officially nonpartisan, Sawant is a member of the Socialist Alternative Party and upon her election in 2013 was the first socialist elected to Seattle city government in 97 years. She was first elected to the council as an at-large member in 2013, when she beat four-term Democratic incumbent Richard Conlin 50.9% to 49.1%. When the council transitioned to district-based voting at the 2015 election, Sawant was re-elected to the council as the member for District 3. She won re-election to the District 3 seat in 2019 by 4.1 percentage points—51.8% to challenger Egan Orion’s 47.7%. A total of 42,956 votes were cast in the 2019 District 3 election, with Sawant receiving 22,263 votes, Orion receiving 20,488, and the remainder being cast for write-in candidates.

The recall against Sawant was initiated on August 18, 2020, when lead petitioner Ernie Lou submitted a formal recall petition to the King County Elections Office. Before a recall petition can move to the signature-gathering phase, Washington law dictates that a judicial review must find legally sufficient grounds for recall under the Washington Constitution. On September 16, King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers certified four of the six grounds for recall contained in the petition. Sawant subsequently appealed the decision to the Washington Supreme Court. If Sawant’s appeal is unsuccessful, petitioners would be required to gather over 10,700 signatures from registered voters to get the recall on the ballot, which equals 25% of the total votes cast in the last District 3 election held in 2019.

In 2019, Ballotpedia covered a total of 151 recall efforts against 230 elected officials. Of the 66 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 34 were recalled for a rate of 52%. That was lower than the 63% rate and 57% rate for 2018 and 2017 recalls, respectively.

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U.S. Senate confirms Knepp to federal district court judgeship

The U.S. Senate confirmed James Knepp to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by a 64–24 vote on November 10, 2020. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Knepp receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the 11-member court will have four Republican-appointed judges, six Democrat-appointed judges, and one vacancy. Knepp will join one other judge appointed by President Trump.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 221 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees since January 2017.

Knepp was a federal magistrate judge for the Northern District of Ohio from 2010 to 2020. Before that, he worked in private practice in Toledo, Ohio, with the law firm of Robison, Curphey & O’Connell, LLC. He served as a law clerk to the late Judge John W. Potter from 1992 to 1994. Knepp earned a B.A., magna cum laude, from Mount Union College in 1986, an M.A. from Bowling Green State University in 1987, and a J.D., summa cum laude, from the University of Toledo College of Law in 1992.

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Hawaii governor appoints Eddins to state supreme court

Image of the Hawaii Supreme Court building in Honolulu.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) appointed Todd Eddins to the Hawaii Supreme Court on October 23, 2020. Pending confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate, Eddins will succeed Justice Richard W. Pollack, who retired on June 30, 2020, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years. Eddins is Ige’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Under Hawaii law, state supreme court justices are selected through the assisted appointment method. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating commission. The nominee requires confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate.

Eddins became a judge of the O’ahu First Circuit of Hawaii in 2017 after being appointed by Gov. Ige on February 9. The Hawaii State Senate confirmed Eddins on March 3, 2017.

Before his appointment to the O’ahu First Circuit, Eddins worked as a trial lawyer for the Office of the Public Defender. He also served as a clerk for Justice Yoshimi Hayashi of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Eddins earned an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a J.D. from the University of Hawaii, where he was the executive editor of the University of Hawaii Law Review.

The Hawaii Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of October 2020, three judges on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor, and one judge on the court was appointed by a Republican governor.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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