Author

Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

U.S. Senate confirms two nominees to federal district courts

The U.S. Senate confirmed two of President Joe Biden’s (D) federal judicial nominees to Article III courts on Sept. 14. To date, 11 of Biden’s appointees have been confirmed.

  1. David Estudillo, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, by a vote of 54-41.
  2. Angel Kelley, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, by a 52-44 vote.

Estudillo was nominated to the Western District of Washington on April 29 to replace JudgeRonald Leighton, who assumedsenior status on Feb. 28, 2019. Kelley was nominated to the District of Massachusetts on May 12 to replace JudgeDouglas Woodlock, who assumed senior status on June 1, 2015. Both of the nominees were rated as well qualified by the American Bar Association.

The confirmed nominees will join their respective courts upon receiving their judicial commissions and taking their judicial oaths.

Additional reading:



Bold Justice: Federal Judicial Vacancy Count released for September 1

Welcome to the September 13 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S.

When the air is white with the down o’ the thistle, ⁠
And the sky is red with the harvest moon; …

Put another way, it’s September! SCOTUS doesn’t start hearing arguments until next month, but they have certainly been busy!  Let’s gavel in, shall we?

Stay up to date on the latest news by following Ballotpedia on Twitter or subscribing to the Daily Brew.

We #SCOTUS and you can, too!

Noteworthy court announcements

Here’s a quick roundup of the court’s most recent noteworthy announcements since the August 9 edition of Bold Justice:

Court announces in-person arguments for October, November, December sittings

  • On September 8, SCOTUS announced it would hear oral arguments in person for the first time since March 4, 2020, during its October, November, and December sittings. However, the court will not be open to the public, in accordance with its current precautions in response to COVID-19. Audio of the court’s proceedings will be streamed live to the public, as was the case during the 2020-2021 term. The audio files and argument transcripts for cases will be posted on the court’s website following oral argument each day.

Court rejects emergency appeal to Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

  • On August 31, SCOTUS did not respond to an emergency appeal from a group of abortion providers seeking to block enforcement of a Texas law banning abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy. The law also authorized private citizens to file civil actions against individuals for violating the law or aiding in violation of the law. Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed the bill, S.B. 8, into law on May 19, 2021. 
  • The appellants alleged that the law violated the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), establishing the constitutional right to have an abortion before the point of fetal viability approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The emergency appeal was submitted through the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to Justice Samuel Alito, who is assigned to the circuit and responsible for reviewing emergency appeals. As the circuit justice, Alito was authorized to respond to the request himself or refer the matter to the full court for consideration.
  • On September 1, the court issued a 5-4 ruling denying the request to block enforcement of the Texas law. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would have granted the application and filed dissenting opinions.

Court issues ruling on federal eviction moratorium

  • On August 26 in a 6-3 per curiam ruling, SCOTUS granted an application from the Alabama Association of Realtors et al to vacate the nationwide moratorium on evictions of tenants living in counties with substantial or high levels of COVID–19 transmission and who make declarations of financial need. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) imposed the moratorium in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the unsigned opinion, the court stated, “If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it. The application to vacate stay presented to [the Chief Justice] and by him referred to the Court is granted.” Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Sotomayor, and Kagan.

Court rejects application for stay of Trump administration “remain in Mexico” policy

  • On August 24, SCOTUS denied the Biden administration’s application for a stay, or postponement, of a U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas injunction requiring the reinstatement of a Trump administration program referred to as the “remain in Mexico” policy. The policy requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting a U.S. immigration court hearing. The order noted that Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan would have granted the application

Court denies request to halt groundbreaking for Obama presidential library

  • On August 20, Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied a request from Protect Our Parks, Inc. to block the groundbreaking construction and excavation for building the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park in Chicago, Illinois. The group alleged construction may cause irreversible harm to local wildlife, land, and historical characteristics in the area and to the public’s enjoyment of the area. Barrett denied the request without referring it to the full court.

Court issues ruling on state eviction moratorium

  • On August 12 in a 6-3 per curiam ruling, SCOTUS granted a request from a group of landlords in New York to lift part of a state moratorium on residential evictions–Part A of the COVID Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act (CEEFPA)–established in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The court ruled Part A, which allows tenants to self-certify financial hardship and does not allow landlords to contest that certification, violated the due process clause. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Sotomayor and Kagan.

Justice Barrett denies request related to university vaccine requirement

  • On August 12, Justice Barrett denied an application from a group of students at Indiana University requesting the court block the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students. Barrett denied the request without referring it to the full court.

Grants

SCOTUS has accepted three new cases to its merits docket since our August 9 issue. To date, the court has agreed to hear 34 cases for the 2021-2022 term. SCOTUS dismissed two cases after they were accepted. Fourteen cases have yet to be scheduled for arguments.

Click the links below to learn more about these cases:

  • Johnson v. Arteaga-Martinez originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and concerns detained non-citizens’ right to a bond hearing.
  • Garland v. Gonzalez concerns detained non-citizens’ right to a bond hearing and whether U.S. courts are allowed to grant classwide injunctive relief, halting an order commanding a party to either perform or not perform an action, in such cases. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.
  • Ramirez v. Collier, originating from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, is a capital case concerning the type of aid a spiritual advisor is permitted to provide in an execution chamber.

Arguments

SCOTUS has scheduled nine cases for nine hours of oral argument since our August 9 issue. 

Click the links below to learn more about these cases:

November 1

November 2

November 3

November 8

November 9

November 10

To date, 13 cases accepted to the court’s merits docket have not yet been scheduled for arguments.

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the court’s upcoming dates of interest:

  • September 27: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
  • October 4: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
  • October 5: SCOTUS will hear arguments in two cases.
  • October 6: SCOTUS will hear arguments in one case.

SCOTUS trivia

Over the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, justices have been appointed from 31 different states. Which of the following has never been a home state of a SCOTUS justice at the time of their appointment?

  1. Alabama
  2. Delaware
  3. New Hampshire
  4. Utah

Choose an answer to find out!

The Federal Vacancy Count

The Federal Vacancy Count tracks vacancies, nominations, and confirmations to all United States Article III federal courts in a one-month period. This month’s edition includes nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from August 2 to September 1. 

Highlights

  • Vacancies: There have been four new judicial vacancies since the July 2021 report. There are 82 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 87 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.  
  • Nominations: There were three new nominations since the July 2021 report. 
  • Confirmations: There was one confirmation since the July 2021 report.

Vacancy count for September 1, 2021

A breakdown of the vacancies at each level can be found in the table below. For a more detailed look at the vacancies on the federal courts, click here.

*Though the United States territorial courts are named as district courts, they are not Article III courts. They are created in accordance with the power granted under Article IV of the U.S. Constitution. Click here for more information.

New vacancies

Four judges left active status since the previous vacancy count, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. The president nominates individuals to fill Article III judicial position vacancies. Nominations are subject to U.S. Senate confirmation.

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies in the United States Courts of Appeals from President Joe Biden‘s (D) inauguration to the date indicated on the chart.

U.S. District Court vacancies

The following map shows the number of vacancies in the United States District Courts as of September 1, 2021.

New nominations

President Biden announced three new nominations in August:

New confirmations

As of September 1, the Senate has confirmed nine of President Biden’s judicial nominees—five district court judges and four appeals court judges—since January 2021.

The first confirmations occurred on June 8, when Julien Neals and Regina Rodriguez were confirmed to their respective courts. 

Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was confirmed on June 14, was the first confirmed nominee to receive her judicial commission. Jackson was commissioned on June 17.

Comparison of Article III judicial appointments over time by president (1981-Present)

  • Presidents have made an average of four judicial appointments through September 1 of their first year in office. 
  • President Biden has made the most, nine, while Presidents Bill Clinton (D) and Barack Obama (D) had confirmed the fewest in that time with one each. 
  • President Ronald Reagan’s (R) 41 appointments signify the most through his first year. President Obama made the fewest with 13.
  • President Donald Trump’s (R) 234 appointments signify the most appointments through four years. President Reagan made the fewest through four years with 166.

Need a daily fix of judicial nomination, confirmation, and vacancy information? Click here for continuing updates on the status of all federal judicial nominees.

Or, keep an eye on this list for updates on federal judicial nominations.

Spotlight: Presidential nominations to federal courts

Today, we highlight President Herbert Hoover’s (R) federal judicial nominees from 1929 to 1933.


During his time in office, the U.S. Senate confirmed 69 of President Hoover’s judicial nominees. The Senate did not vote on or rejected 11 of Hoover’s nominees.

Among the most notable appointees were three Supreme Court Justices:

President Hoover’s first Article III appointees were confirmed on April 18, 1929—two nominees were confirmed to U.S. Courts of Appeal and five nominees were confirmed to U.S. District Courts. By the end of his first year in office, 18 of Hoover’s nominees had been confirmed–six to U.S. circuit courts, nine to U.S. district courts, one to the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals, and two to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. 

Hoover averaged 17 judicial appointments per year. For comparison, President Jimmy Carter (D) had the highest average from 1901 to 2021 with 65.5 appointments per year.

Looking ahead

We’ll be back on October 4 with a new edition of Bold Justice. Until then, gaveling out! 

Contributions

Kate Carsella compiled and edited this newsletter, with contributions from Brittony Maag, Jace Lington, and Sara Reynolds.



SCOTUS announces it will hear oral arguments in person

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) announced on Sept. 8 that it would hear oral arguments in person for the first time since March 4, 2020, for its October, November, and December sittings.

However, the court will not be open to the public, in accordance with its current precautions in response to COVID-19. Argument audio will be streamed live to the public, as was the case during the 2020-2021 term. The audio files and argument transcripts for cases will be posted on the Court’s website following oral argument each day.

The Supreme Court’s October sitting is scheduled to begin on October 4. Nine cases have been scheduled for a total of nine hours of oral argument. 

October 4

  1. Mississippi v. Tennessee
  2. Wooden v. United States

October 5

  1. Brown v. Davenport
  2. Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC

October 6

  1. United States v. Zubaydah

October 12

  1. Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C.
  2. Hemphill v. New York

October 13

  1. United States v. Tsarnaev
  2. Babcock v. Saul

As of Sept. 8, the court had agreed to hear 33 cases during the term. Of those, 13 cases have not yet been scheduled for argument.

Additional reading:



SCOTUS grants review in capital case

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Sept. 8 accepted a capital case to its merits docket for the 2021-2022 term. The case, Ramirez v. Collier, originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, located in New Orleans.

John Ramirez filed an emergency appeal with the court on Sept. 7 to postpone his execution and to hear his case on the merits. Ramirez was convicted of a 2004 murder and was sentenced to be executed on Sept. 9. Ramirez requested that his pastor be allowed to pray over him and physically touch him in the execution chamber while he was put to death. The State of Texas refused the request. Ramirez argued that this denial was a violation of his constitutional and federally protected religious rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000. The state argued that it did not force Ramirez to violate his religion, rather, it was not meeting all of his religious needs. 

SCOTUS granted the emergency appeal to stay the execution and accepted the case for oral arguments this fall in order to consider the aid a spiritual advisor may or may not provide during an execution.

To date, the court has agreed to hear 34 cases for the 2021-2022 term. Two cases were dismissed after they were accepted. Fourteen cases have yet to be scheduled for arguments.

Additional reading:



Maryland state supreme court’s chief justice to retire on Sept. 10

Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Justice Mary Ellen Barbera is retiring on Sept. 10, upon reaching the state court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years. Governor Larry Hogan (R) appointed Steven Gould to succeed Barbera on the court on Sept. 3. Gould was Hogan’s fifth nominee to the seven-member supreme court. 

Gould is a judge of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. Gould was appointed to the court by Hogan in 2019. Prior to becoming an appellate judge, Gould was a founding partner of Brown Gould Kiely, LLP.

Under Maryland law, midterm vacancies on the state supreme court are filled via the assisted appointment method. The Maryland Judicial Nominating Commission screens candidates and submits a shortlist to the governor. The governor then appoints a judge from the list. The appointee must be confirmed by the Maryland State Senate. After serving for one year, judges must stand for retention in the next general election if they wish to remain on the court. If retained, a judge is elected to a full 10-year term.

Chief Justice Barbera joined the court in 2008 following an appointment by Governor Martin O’Malley (D). Before serving on the state supreme court, Barbera served as a judge on the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. She served as a law clerk for Court of Special Appeals Judge Robert Karwacki in 1984. In 1985, she became an assistant attorney general. From 1989 to 1998, Barbera worked for the Office of the Attorney General as the deputy chief of the Criminal Appeals Division. Barbera then served as legal counsel to the governor’s office from 1998 until her appointment to the Court of Special Appeals.

Following Barbera’s retirement, the Maryland Court of Appeals will include the following members:

  1. Brynja McDivitt Booth, appointed by Gov.Larry Hogan (R) in 2019
  2. Robert N. McDonald, appointed by Gov.Martin O’Malley (D) in 2011
  3. Joseph Getty, appointed by Hogan in 2016
  4. Michele D. Hotten, appointed by Hogan in 2015
  5. Jonathan Biran, appointed by Hogan in 2019
  6. Shirley Marie Watts, appointed by O’Malley in 2013

In 2021, there have been 16 court vacancies in 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements.

Additional reading:



Update: SCOTUS issues 5-4 ruling rejecting emergency appeal to Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a 5-4 ruling on Sept. 1, denying a request to block enforcement of a Texas law banning abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy and authorizing private civil right of action related to violations of the law. The latter authorization allows private citizens to bring civil actions against individuals for violating the law or aiding in violation of the law. The bill, S.B. 8, was signed into law on May 19 by Governor Greg Abbott (R). 

The ruling came after the court on Aug. 31 did not respond to the emergency appeal filed by a group of abortion providers seeking to block enforcement of the law. The appellants argued that the law violated the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), establishing the constitutional right to have an abortion before the point of fetal viability, approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. 

The emergency appeal was submitted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to Justice Samuel Alito, the justice assigned to review emergency appeals originating from the circuit court. As the circuit justice, Alito referred the matter to the full court for consideration.

In the unsigned opinion from the Sept. 1 ruling, the court stated: “The applicants now before us have raised serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law at issue. But their application also presents complex and novel antecedent procedural questions on which they have not carried their burden.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan would have granted the application to stop the law’s enforcement, and each filed dissenting opinions.

Additional reading:



SCOTUS declines to act in emergency appeal to Texas law banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy

The Supreme Court of the United States on Aug. 31 did not respond to an emergency appeal filed by a group of abortion providers seeking to block enforcement of a Texas law banning abortion procedures after six weeks of pregnancy and authorizing private civil right of action related to violations of the law. The latter authorization allows private citizens to bring civil actions against individuals for violating the law or aiding in violation of the law. The bill, Senate Bill 8, was signed into law on May 19 by Gov. Greg Abbott (R). 

The appellants argued that the law violated the Supreme Court’s rulings in Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), establishing the constitutional right to have an abortion before the point of fetal viability, approximately 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The emergency appeal was submitted through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to Justice Samuel Alito, the justice assigned to review emergency appeals originating from the circuit court. As the circuit justice, Alito was authorized to respond to the request himself or refer the matter to the full court for consideration.

Click here to review the Supreme Court justices’ circuit assignments.

Additional reading:



SCOTUS roundup: noteworthy court announcements in August 2021

Although the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) is in its summer recess, the court has issued orders and opinions emanating from its emergency docket this month. The emergency docket refers to orders and opinions issued in cases that are not part of the court’s merits docket of cases that are scheduled for argument.

Aug. 12

  1. Justice Barrett denies request related to university vaccine requirement: JusticeAmy Coney Barrett denied a request for an application for injunctive relief filed by a group of students at Indiana University. Injunctive relief, also known as an injunction, is a judicial order stopping a party from performing certain actions, or requiring an action to be performed in a specific manner. The application requested that the court block the school’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement for students. The request was denied without being referred to the full court.
  2. Court issues ruling on state eviction moratorium: In a 6-3per curiam ruling, SCOTUS granted an injunction filed by a group of landlords in New York. The application requested that the court lift part of a state moratorium on residential evictions–Part A of the COVID Emergency Eviction and Foreclosure Prevention Act (CEEFPA)–established in 2020 at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. JusticeStephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by JusticesSonia Sotomayor andElena Kagan.

Aug. 20

  1. Justice Barrett denies request for injunction of groundbreaking for Obama presidential library: JusticeAmy Coney Barrett denied a request for an injunction filed by Protect Our Parks, Inc. The application requested that the court block the groundbreaking construction and excavation related to building the Obama Presidential Center in Jackson Park in Chicago, Illinois. The request was denied without being referred to the full court.

Aug. 24

  1. Court rejects application for stay of Trump administration “remain in Mexico” policy: SCOTUS denied the Biden administration’s application for a stay, or a halt, of aU.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas injunction requiring the reinstatement of a Trump administration program referred to as the “remain in Mexico” policy. The policy requires asylum seekers to remain in Mexico while awaiting a U.S. immigration court hearing. The order stated that JusticesStephen Breyer,Sonia Sotomayor, andElena Kagan would have granted the application.

Aug. 26

  1. Court issues ruling on federal eviction moratorium: In a 6-3per curiam ruling, SCOTUS granted an application, filed by the Alabama Association of REALTORS et al, to vacate the nationwide moratorium on evictions of tenants living in a county experiencing substantial or high levels of COVID–19 transmission and who make declarations of financial need. The moratorium was imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the unsigned opinion, the court stated, “If a federally imposed eviction moratorium is to continue, Congress must specifically authorize it. The application to vacate stay presented to the Chief Justice and by him referred to the Court is granted.” Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by JusticesSonia Sotomayor andElena Kagan.

Additional reading:



U.S. Supreme Court announces November argument calendar

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) on Aug. 16 released its calendar for the November sitting of the 2021-2022 term, scheduling nine cases for argument. The court will hear nine hours of oral argument between Nov. 1 and Nov. 10. 

Click the links below to learn more about the cases:

Nov. 1

  1. Thompson v. Clark
  2. Shinn v. Ramirez

Nov. 2

  1. Houston Community College System v. Wilson
  2. Badgerow v. Walters

Nov. 3

  1. New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Corlett

Nov. 8

  1. Federal Bureau of Investigation v. Fazaga
  2. Unicolors, Inc. v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz, LP

Nov. 9

  1. Pivotal Software, Inc. v. Tran

Nov. 10

  1. City of Austin, Texas v. Reagan National Advertising of Texas, Inc.

The court issued the October sitting calendar on July 13. Click here to review the cases scheduled for argument in October.

To date, 11 cases accepted for review have not yet been scheduled for argument. Two cases were dismissed after they were accepted. The court has agreed to hear 31 cases total during the 2021-2022 term.

Additional reading:



Oregon Supreme Court justice to retire at year’s end

Oregon Supreme Court Justice Lynn Nakamoto is retiring on Dec. 31, 2021. Nakamoto’s replacement will be Governor Kate Brown’s (D) sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Under Oregon law, midterm vacancies on the state supreme court are filled via gubernatorial appointment. Appointed judges serve until the next general election more than 60 days after they were appointed, at which point they must run for election in order to remain in office.

Justice Nakamoto joined the Oregon Supreme Court in 2016. She was appointed to the court by Brown. Upon her appointment, Nakamoto became the first Asian Pacific American on the state supreme court.

Before serving on the state supreme court, Nakamoto served as a judge on the Oregon Court of Appeals. She was appointed to that court by Governor Ted Kulongoski (D) in December 2010. Upon her appointment to the court, Nakamoto became the first Asian Pacific American from Oregon to serve on any state or federal appellate court. 

Following Nakamoto’s retirement, the Oregon Supreme Court will include the following members:

Founded in 1859, the Oregon Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. The current chief of the court is Martha Walters.

In 2021, there have been 15 court vacancies in 13 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements.

Additional reading: