TagFederal Courts

Tag for anything regarding federal courts

U.S. Senate returns 37 federal judicial nominations to president

On January 3, 2021, the United States Senate returned the nominations of 37 individuals to the president at the sine die adjournment of the 116th Congress. On the same day, President Donald Trump (R) resubmitted 17 judicial nominations to the Senate. 

The list of returned nominations included 22 nominees for the U.S. district courts, three nominees for the Court of Federal Claims, one for the Court of International Trade, one for the United States Tax Court, two for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, one for the District Court of Guam, and seven for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

At the adjournment of the 116th Congress on January 3, seven of the nominees were awaiting a full Senate vote, one was awaiting a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee, and 29 were awaiting a committee hearing.

Any renominations are referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee may choose not to hold additional hearings for nominees who already received a hearing in the previous Congress. As such, the renominations are expected to continue in the confirmation process where they left off at the end of the 116th Congress.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—174 district court judges, 54 appeals court judges, three Supreme Court justices, and three international trade judges—since January 2017.



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.

Additional reading:



U.S. Senate confirms nominee to U.S. District Court for Central District of California

The U.S. Senate confirmed Fernando Aenlle-Rocha to the United States District Court for the Central District of California by a vote of 80-8. After he receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the 28-member court will have nine Democrat-appointed judges, 13 Republican-appointed judges, and six vacancies. Aenlle-Rocha will join three other judges appointed by President Donald Trump (R).

The Central District of California is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

Aenlle-Rocha previously served as a judge on the Superior Court of Los Angeles County in California. He was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown (D) on May 22, 2017, and elected to the court in 2018.

Aenlle-Rocha was born in Cuba in 1961. He received his B.A. from Princeton University in 1983 and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law in 1986.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 234 of Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 54 appellate court judges, 174 district court judges, and three U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Additional reading:



U.S. Senate confirms two nominees to federal judgeships

The U.S. Senate has confirmed two nominees to federal district court judgeships. The 94 U.S. District Courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 232 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 54 appellate court judges, 172 district court judges, and three U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

The nominees are:

• Katherine Crytzer, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee by a 48-47 vote. After she receives her federal judicial commission and takes her judicial oath, the five-member court will have one Democrat-appointed judge, three Republican-appointed judges, and one vacancy. Crytzer will join one other judge appointed by President Trump.

• Joseph Dawson, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina by a 56-39 vote. After he receives his federal judicial commission and takes his judicial oath, the 10-member court will have five Democrat-appointed judges, five Republican-appointed judges, and no vacancies. Dawson will join two other judges appointed by President Trump.

Additional reading:



Thomas Kirsch confirmed to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

The U.S. Senate confirmed nominee Thomas Kirsch to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. He was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on November 16, 2020, and confirmed by a 51-44 vote of the U.S. Senate on December 15, 2020. He will join the court upon receiving his judicial commission and taking his judicial oath. He replaces judge Amy Coney Barrett. 

Kirsch previously served as the United States attorney for the Northern District of Indiana from 2017 to 2020.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 232 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 54 appellate court judges, 172 district court judges, and three U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

Additional reading:



Two nominees confirmed to federal judgeships

The week of November 30, 2020, two federal judicial nominees were confirmed to Article I judgeships by the U.S. Senate. They will join their respective courts upon receiving their judicial commission and taking their judicial oaths.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims

On December 2, 2020, Kathryn Davis was confirmed to the court by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 51-45. She was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on November 19, 2019. Davis was nominated to replace Judge Charles F. Lettow, 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 Davis receives her judicial commission, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims will have:

  • Six vacancies
  • Seven Republican-appointed judges and three Democrat-appointed judges.

In addition to Davis, President Trump has appointed 13 judges to the court. President Barack Obama (D) appointed three judges to the court.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces

On December 3, 2020, Liam Hardy was confirmed to the court by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 59-34. He was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on May 21, 2020. Hardy was nominated to replace Judge Margaret Ryan, whose term expired on July 31, 2020.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces is an Article I federal court that exercises worldwide appellate jurisdiction over members of the U.S. Armed Forces on active duty and other persons subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

After Hardy receives his judicial commission, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces will have:

  • No vacancies
  • Three Republican-appointed judges and two Democrat-appointed judges.

In addition to Hardy, President Trump has appointed one judge to the court. President Obama appointed two judges to the court, and President George W. Bush appointed one judge to the court.

Since taking office, President Trump has nominated 274 individuals to federal judgeships, 229 of whom have been confirmed. There were 60 vacancies in the federal judiciary, as of December 8, 2020. Of those vacancies, 48 had pending nominations.

Additional reading:



U.S. Supreme Court releases January 2021 argument calendar

Image of the front of the United States Supreme Court building.

The U.S. Supreme Court has released its January argument calendar for the 2020-2021 term. The court will hear five hours of oral argument in seven cases between January 11 and January 19.

So far, the court has agreed to hear 46 cases during its 2020-2021 term.

January 11, 2021

Albence v. Guzman Chavez

January 12, 2021

Uzuegbunam v. Preczewski

January 13, 2021

AMG Capital Management, LLC v. Federal Trade Commission (Consolidated with Federal Trade Commission v. Credit Bureau Center, LLC)

January 19, 2021

FCC v. Prometheus Radio Project (Consolidated with National Association of Broadcasters v. Prometheus Radio Project)

BP P.L.C. v. Mayor and City Council of Baltimore

Additional reading:



U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals rejects judicial deference to agency commentary that expanded sentencing guidelines

On December 1, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled unanimously in U.S. v. Malik Nasir that courts should reject judicial deference to United States Sentencing Commission commentary that expands federal sentencing guidelines. The case involves Malik Nasir’s marijuana conviction and the decision to sentence him as a career offender using definitions found in agency commentary about federal sentencing guidelines.

Judge Kent Jordan, a George W. Bush appointee, delivered the majority opinion, which overturned Nasir’s original sentence. The opinion discussed how much weight courts should give United States Sentencing Commission commentary that expands official sentencing guidelines. Jordan cited the 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kisor v. Wilkie and wrote that Third Circuit precedent giving binding judicial deference to agency commentary expanding the scope of regulations was wrong.

Kisor limited earlier U.S. Supreme Court precedents that had granted broad judicial deference to agency interpretations of their own regulations. Post-Kisor, Jordan argued that courts should only defer to agency interpretations of their own regulations when there is genuine ambiguity about what certain regulations mean. He argued that agency commentary could not expand the scope of the sentencing guidelines established through notice-and-comment rulemaking.

According to Jordan, “If we accept that the commentary can do more than interpret the guidelines, that it can add to their scope, we allow circumvention of the checks Congress put on the Sentencing Commission, a body that exercises considerable authority in setting rules that can deprive citizens of their liberty.” He added that “separation-of-powers concerns advise against any interpretation of the commentary that expands the substantive law set forth in the guidelines themselves.”

Judge Stephanos Bibas, a Donald Trump appointee, agreed with the majority’s rejection of deference in this case and wrote in a concurring opinion that courts should interpret ambiguities in federal sentencing guidelines in favor of defendants. He wrote, “Courts play a vital role in safeguarding liberty and checking punishment. That includes reading the Sentencing Guidelines. Some provisions are ambiguous. But as Kisor teaches, instead of deferring to the commentary the moment ambiguity arises, judges must first exhaust our legal toolkit. This will require work; our old precedents relying strictly on the commentary no longer bind. In undertaking this task, we must not forget the rule of lenity.”

Judicial deference is one of five pillars key to understanding the main areas of debate about the nature and scope of the administrative state. To learn more about judicial deference, click here.

Additional reading:



Johnson, Beaton receive judicial commission as U.S. District Court judges

On December 1, 2020, Kristi Johnson received her judicial commission to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. On the same date, Benjamin Beaton received his judicial commission to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. 

Johnson was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on May 4, 2020, to succeed Judge Keith Starrett, who assumed senior status on April 30, 2019. Johnson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 17, 2020, by a vote of 53-43.

Beaton was nominated by President Donald Trump (R) on September 8, 2020, to succeed Judge Justin Walker, who was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 18, 2020. Beaton was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 17, 2020, by a vote of 52-44.

Following nomination by the president, a federal judicial nominee completes a questionnaire that is reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee then holds a hearing to question the nominee regarding their judicial philosophy and their previous rulings. The committee also sends the nominee’s home state senators a blue slip, permitting them to express their approval or disapproval of the nominee.

After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the nominee is reported to the full Senate for a vote. If returned, the president may renominate the person. If the Senate confirms the nomination, the individual receives commission to serve as a federal judge for a life term. If the individual is not confirmed, they do not become a judge.

As of December 1, 2020, President Trump had made 227 Article III judicial appointments—three supreme court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 168 district court judges, and three judges on the Court of International Trade.

Additional reading:



Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for November

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from November 2, 2020, to December 1, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There has been one new judicial vacancy since the October 2020 report. There are 53 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, 60 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

  • Nominations: There has been one new nomination since the October 2020 report.
  • Confirmations: There have been seven new confirmations since the October 2020 report.

New vacancies

There were 53 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 6.1.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • Three (1.7%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 49 (7.3%) of the 677 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.
  • One (11.1%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions is vacant.

A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away. Article III judges, who serve on courts authorized by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

One judge left active status, creating one Article III life-term judicial vacancy, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Donald Trump (R) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at Trump’s inauguration and as of December 1, 2020.

New nominations

President Donald Trump (R) has announced one new nomination since the October 2020 report.

  • Raúl Arias-Marxuach, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit.

New confirmations

Since November 2, 2020, the United States Senate has confirmed seven of President Trump’s nominees to an Article III seat. 

  • James Knepp, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
  • Aileen Cannon, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida.
  • Benjamin Beaton, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
  • Toby Crouse, confirmed to the United States District Court for the District of Kansas.
  • Kristi Johnson, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.
  • Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
  • Stephen Vaden, confirmed to the United States Court of International Trade.

As of December 1, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 227 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—168 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, three Court of International Trade judges, and three Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

Additional reading:



Bitnami