Author

Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

U.S. Supreme Court releases December calendar

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its December argument calendar for the 2020-2021 term. The court will hear 10 hours of oral argument in 12 cases between November 30 and December 9.

So far, the court has agreed to hear 31 cases during its 2020-2021 term.

November 30, 2020:
Van Buren v. United States
Edwards v. Vannoy

December 1, 2020:
Nestlé USA v. Doe I (Consolidated _Cargill v. Doe I)
CIC Services v. Internal Revenue Service

December 2, 2020:
Department of Justice v. House Committee on the Judiciary

December 7, 2020:
Republic of Hungary v. Simon
Federal Republic of Germany v. Philipp

December 8, 2020:
Facebook v. Duguid
Henry Schein Inc. v. Archer and White Sales Inc.

December 9, 2020
Collins v. Mnuchin (Consolidated with Mnuchin v. Collins)
https://ballotpedia.org/Supreme_Court_cases,_October_term_2020-2021#December_sitting



Florida governor appoints Grosshans to state supreme court

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed Jamie Grosshans to the Florida Supreme Court on September 14, 2020. She was appointed to succeed Justice Robert Luck, who was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in November 2019. Grosshans will join two other DeSantis nominees on the seven-member court.

The governor had originally appointed Renatha Francis to the position on May 26, but a five-member Florida Supreme Court ruled against Francis’ appointment and ordered the governor to select a different nominee. State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-44) filed a lawsuit challenging Francis’ appointment in July 2020.

Grosshans is a judge on the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Rick Scott (R) in 2018. She was a judge for the Orange County Court in Florida from 2017 to 2018. Before that, Grosshans was a solo practitioner for Plant Street Law. She also previously worked as an assistant state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College and a J.D., cum laude, from the University of Mississippi School of Law.

Florida Supreme Court justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment. A judicial nominating commission screens potential judicial candidates and submits a list of nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from this list. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms.

The Florida Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of September 2020, all six of the sitting justices were appointed by a Republican governor.

In 2019, there were 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies. In 2020, there have been 20 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.

Additional reading


No current U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies

Seventeen U.S. Court of Appeals judgeships were vacant when President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. Today, there are no U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies. According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, no U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges have announced their intent to leave active judicial status during the remainder of Trump’s current term.

This is the first time there have been no federal appeals court vacancies since at least 1977. Between January 1, 1977, and January 1, 2019, an average of 9.6% of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeships were vacant.

Additional reading:


Bold Justice: No U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies

Welcome to the September 14 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S. There’s less than a month to go before the Supreme Court begins its new term! We know you are as excited as we are. In the meantime, follow us on Twitter or subscribe to the Daily Brew for all the latest information.

The court will begin its 2020-2021 term on October 5. So far, the justices have agreed to hear 31 cases. Of those, 12 were originally scheduled for the 2019 term but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ 2020-2021 term.

The Supreme Court finished its 2019-2020 term on July 9. The court agreed to hear arguments in 74 cases, but heard arguments in only 61 cases due to the coronavirus pandemic. Click here to read more about SCOTUS’ 2019-2020 term.

Upcoming SCOTUS dates

Here are the upcoming dates of interest in September and October:

  • September 29: SCOTUS will conference. A conference is a private meeting of the justices.
  • October 5: SCOTUS will begin its 2020-2021 term, hearing arguments in two cases.

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 3 to September 1.

Highlights

  • Vacancies: There have been no new judicial vacancies since the previous report. There are 72 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, 78 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
  • Nominations: There have been five new nominations since the previous report.
  • Confirmations: There has been one new confirmation since the previous report.

Vacancy count for September 1, 2020

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

No judges have left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. The president must make a nomination to fill vacant Article III judicial positions. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies

Seventeen U.S. Court of Appeals judgeships were vacant when President Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017. Today, there are no U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacancies. According to the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts, no U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges have announced their intent to leave active judicial status during the remainder of Trump’s current term.

This is the first time there have been no federal appeals court vacancies since at least 1977. Between January 1, 1977, and January 1, 2019, an average of 9.6% of U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judgeships were vacant.

U.S. District Court vacancies

The following map displays U.S. District Court vacancies as of September 1.

New nominations

President Trump has announced five new nominations since the previous report.

  • Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
  • Benjamin Beaton, to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
  • Hector Gonzalez, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • Ryan McAllister, to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.
  • David Woll, to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

The president has announced 267 Article III judicial nominations since taking office January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.

New confirmations

Between August 3 and September 1, the Senate confirmed one of the president’s nominees to an Article III court.

Between January 2017 and September 1, 2020, the Senate confirmed 203 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—146 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.

Trump is tied with President Bill Clinton (D) for the second-most Article III judicial appointments through September 1 of his fourth year of all presidencies since Jimmy Carter (D). The Senate confirmed 248 of Carter’s federal judicial appointees at this point in his presidency.

The average number of confirmed presidential judicial appointees through September 1 of a president’s fourth year in office is 191.

The median number of U.S. Court of Appeals appointees is 35. Carter appointed the most with 54, while Reagan appointed the least with 28. Trump’s 53 appointments make up 30% of the 179 federal appellate court judgeships.

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, if you prefer, we also maintain a list of individuals the president has nominated.


In the next several Bold Justice editions, we’re taking a closer look at the nine U.S. Supreme Court justices. Today, we’re learning about Chief Justice John Roberts.Roberts has been chief justice since September 29, 2005. President George W. Bush (R) originally nominated Roberts on July 19, 2005, to be an associate justice succeeding Sandra Day O’Connor. President Bush withdrew his nomination after Chief Justice William Rehnquist died on September 3, 2005. On September 6, the president renominated Roberts to be the 17th chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The U.S. Senate confirmed Roberts by a 78-22 vote on September 29, 2005.

Before joining the U.S. Supreme Court, Roberts was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Before that, he worked in private practice and for the U.S. Department of Justice. After law school, Roberts was a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist.

Roberts was born in Buffalo, N.Y., on January 27, 1955. He is a practicing Roman Catholic. He attended private schools as a child and graduated from La Lumiere School, an all-boys Roman Catholic boarding school in LaPorte, Indiana, as class valedictorian in 1973.

Roberts earned an undergraduate degree, summa cum laude, from Harvard University in 1976. He wrote his thesis on British liberalism in the early 20th century. Roberts also earned his J.D., magna cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1979. During his legal studies, Roberts served as managing editor of the Harvard Law Review.

In the 2019-2020 term, Roberts wrote the following opinions:

We’ll be back October 5 with a new edition of Bold Justice.


Florida Supreme Court nullifies appointment, orders governor to select new nominee

Five members of the Florida Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the appointment of Renatha Francis. Justice John Couriel recused himself. The court ordered Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to select a new nominee from a list of seven recommended by a judicial nominating commission.

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) had appointed Francis to the state supreme court on May 26, 2020, to succeed Robert Luck. In July, State Rep. Geraldine Thompson (D-District 44) filed a lawsuit challenging the appointment. Thompson argued Francis was unqualified because she had not been a member of the Florida Bar for the amount of time (10 years) required under the Florida Constitution. Francis will reach the 10-year membership requirement on September 24, 2020.

The court held that Francis was not eligible because she did not meet the eligibility requirements under the state constitution. It also held the governor violated the 60-day deadline for filling state supreme court vacancies provided by the state constitution. “The Governor has not satisfied his legal obligation to fill the vacancy by making a constitutionally valid appointment. … The Governor has not complied with the constitution’s clear commands,” the court wrote. DeSantis has until September 14, 2020, to select a replacement.

The Florida Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Justices are chosen through a process of assisted appointment whereby a judicial nominating commission screens potential judicial candidates and submits a list of nominees to the governor. The governor must appoint a judge from this list. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms.

Additional reading


U.S. Senate confirms two U.S. District Court nominees

The U.S. Senate confirmed Christy Wiegand to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania and Brett Ludwig to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. The Western District of Pennsylvania and the Eastern District of Wisconsin are two of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Wiegand receives her federal judicial commission and takes her judicial oath, the court will have eight Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Wiegand will join seven other judges appointed by President Trump.

After Ludwig receives his judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the court will have two Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges. Ludwig will be the first judge appointed by President Trump to join the court.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 205 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 148 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Additional reading


Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice to retire in January 2021

Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Coats is retiring in January 2021, when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72.

Coats joined the court in 2000 after being appointed by Gov. Bill Owens (R). Before that, he was an appellate deputy district attorney for the Colorado 2nd Judicial District from 1986 to 2000. He was the deputy attorney general from 1983 to 1986 and the assistant attorney general in the appellate section of the Colorado attorney general’s office. Coats obtained his undergraduate degree in economics from the University of Colorado in 1971. In 1977 he earned his J.D. from the University of Colorado Law School.

Under Colorado law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a 15-member nominating commission. The commission provides a list of three candidates to the governor, who must choose from that list. Initial terms last at least two years, after which justices must stand for retention in a yes-no election. Subsequent terms last 10 years. Coats’ replacement will be Governor Jared Polis’ (D) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

The chief justice of the supreme court is selected by peer vote. Beginning in January 2021, the chief justice will serve for a set term on a rotating basis. As of 2020, the chief justice serves indefinitely as long as he or she has the support of his or her peers.

In addition to Chief Justice Coats, the Colorado Supreme Court currently includes the following justices:
• Monica Márquez – Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in 2010
• Brian Boatright – Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2011
• William W. Hood – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2013
• Richard Gabriel – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2015
• Melissa Hart – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2017

• Carlos Armando Samour Jr. – Appointed by Gov. Hickenlooper in 2018

In 2021, there will be two supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies are due to retirements. One vacancy—South Dakota—is in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. The other vacancy—Colorado—is in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement.

In 2020, there have been 19 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Six are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.



U.S. Supreme Court releases November calendar

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its November argument calendar for the 2020-2021 term. The court will hear eight hours of oral argument in nine cases between November 2 and November 10.

So far, the court has agreed to hear 31 cases during its 2020-2021 term.

November 2, 2020
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club

Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board

November 3, 2020
Jones v. Mississippi

Borden v. United States

November 4, 2020

Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

November 9, 2020
Niz-Chavez v. Barr

Brownback v. King

November 10, 2020

California v. Texas (Consolidated with Texas v. California)

Additional reading:


Bold Justice: Taking a look at Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue

Welcome to the August 10 edition of Bold Justice, Ballotpedia’s newsletter about the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) and other judicial happenings around the U.S. Need to keep up on your federal court news during the dog days of summer? Follow us on Twitter or subscribe to the Daily Brew for all the latest information.

In this edition, we’re taking a closer look at Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which the U.S. Supreme Court decided on June 30, 2020. The case concerned whether the government can exclude religious institutions from student-aid programs.

Background

A 2015 Montana law established a tax credit scholarship program that matched—up to $150 a year—taxpayer donations to organizations that issued scholarships for private school students. To ensure compliance with the Montana Constitution, the state Department of Revenue established Rule 1, which barred recipients from using the scholarships at religiously-affiliated private schools. The plaintiffs, three mothers whose children attended religious-affiliated private schools, challenged Rule 1. The Montana 11th Judicial District ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, prohibiting the rule’s enforcement. On appeal, the Montana Supreme Court reversed the lower court, holding the law violated Article X, Section 6 of the state constitution.

In a 5-4 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court held Article X, Section 6 violated the Free Exercise clause. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts said: “A state need not subsidize private education…but once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Blaine Amendments in state constitutions

Article X, Section 6 of the Montana Constitution is known as Montana’s Blaine Amendment. Blaine Amendments refer to provisions in state constitutions that bar public funds from going to religiously-affiliated schools. Montana adopted a Blaine Amendment when it became a state in 1889. Article X, Section 6 was incorporated in the state’s 1972 constitution.

U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine proposed the first Blaine Amendment on December 14, 1875, in reaction to efforts by religious groups, mainly the Catholic Church, to establish parochial schools with public funding. The amendment passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but did not receive the necessary two-thirds vote in the U.S. Senate.

Blaine Amendments were added to the constitutions of 38 states. Louisiana voters repealed their state’s Blaine Amendment in 1974, leaving 37 states with Blaine Amendments in their constitutions as of 2020. Click here for more information on Blaine Amendments in state constitutions.

Media coverage and commentary

The ruling’s affect on public school funding
“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars.”

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, June 30, 2020

“When you have a state where … a significant minority of parents are using private schools, they’re going to be voting against increasing taxes for public education. But if they are able to share in the education pot, they may move to supporters of greater aid to education.”

Professor Michael McConnell, Stanford Law School, July 30, 2020

The ruling’s affect on free exercise of religion
“We celebrate today’s Supreme Court decision on religious schools, which removes one of the biggest obstacles to better educational opportunities for all children. States may no longer hide behind rules motivated by insidious bias against Catholics, known as Blaine Amendments, to exclude religious schools from public benefits. Laws that condition public benefits, like need-based academic scholarships, on religious status demonstrate state-sanctioned hostility to religion, pressure people and institutions to censor their religious views, and stigmatize disfavored religions. The Trump Administration believes that school choice is a civil rights issue, and that no parent should be forced to send their child to a failing school. President Donald J. Trump will fight for school choice, and he will always defend our first freedom: the free exercise of religion.”

Statement from the Trump administration, June 30, 2020

“Other Christians also briefed in favor of Montana. Nonetheless, Jews, other Christians and minority religions are now expected to pay for programs that teach religious ideals with which they disagree. They are especially worried that their tax dollars will now pay for schools that do not protect LGBTQ rights.”

Professor Leslie Griffin, University of Nevada, August 4, 2020

Click here for more information on media coverage and commentary of Espinoza.

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 July 2 to August 3.

Highlights

  • Vacancies: There have been two new judicial vacancies since the previous report. There are 73 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, 79 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
  • Nominations: There have been no new nominations since the previous report.
  • Confirmations: There have been two new confirmations since the previous report.

Vacancy count for August 3, 2020

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

Two judges have left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, the president must make a nomination to fill the vacancy. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. District Court vacancies

The following map displays U.S. District Court vacancies as of August 1.

New nominations

President Trump has not announced any new nominations since the previous report.

The president has announced 262 Article III judicial nominations since taking office January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019. For more information on the president’s judicial nominees, click here.

New confirmations

Between July 2 and August 3, the Senate confirmed two of the president’s nominees to Article III courts.

Between January 2017 and August 3, 2020, the Senate confirmed 202 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—145 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.

Trump is tied with President Bill Clinton (D) for the second-most Article III judicial appointments through August 1 of his fourth year of all presidencies since Jimmy Carter (D). The Senate confirmed 247 of Carter’s federal judicial appointees at this point in his presidency.

The average number of confirmed presidential judicial appointees through August 1 of the fourth year in office is 188.

The median number of U.S. Court of Appeals appointees is 35. Carter appointed the most with 54, while Reagan appointed the least with 27. Trump’s 53 appointments make up 29.6% of the total 179 judgeships across the courts of appeal.

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, if you prefer, we also maintain a list of individuals the president has nominated.


We’ll be back September 14 with a new edition of Bold Justice.


Senate confirms Cronan to U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York

The U.S. Senate confirmed John Cronan to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by a vote of 55-42. The Southern District of New York is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

After Cronan receives his judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the court will have two vacancies, seven Republican-appointed judges, and 19 Democrat-appointed judges. Cronan will join three other judges appointed by President Trump.

Cronan earned his B.A., magna cum laude, from Georgetown University in 1998 and his J.D. from Yale Law School in 2001. During his legal studies, he was the editor-in-chief of the Yale Law and Policy Review.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 203 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 146 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Additional reading:


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