TagJudicial appointments

Maine governor appoints Valerie Stanfill to state supreme court

Maine Gov. Janet Mills (D) appointed Valerie Stanfill to fill a vacancy on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on May 10. The seat became vacant when former Chief Justice Leigh Saufley retired on April 14, 2020, to become dean of the University of Maine School of Law.

Under Maine law, Stanfill requires confirmation by the Maine State Senate in order to become a justice on the state’s highest court.

Stanfill has served on the Maine Superior Court since February 2020. She served as a judge on the Maine District Court from January 2007 to February 2020. Prior to joining the bench, Stanfill’s career experience included working as an acting director with the Cumberland Legal Aid Clinic, as a visiting clinical professor of law with the University of Maine School of Law, and as an attorney in private practice.

Stanfill earned a bachelor’s degree from Bryn Mawr College and a J.D. from the University of Maine School of Law.

If confirmed, Stanfill will join the other six justices on the seven-member court:

  • Catherine Connors – appointed by Gov. Janet Mills in 2020
  • Ellen Gorman – appointed by Gov. John Baldacci (D) in 2007
  • Andrew Horton – appointed by Gov. Mills in 2020
  • Thomas Humphrey – appointed by Gov. Paul LePage (R) in 2015
  • Joseph Jabar – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2009
  • Andrew Mead – appointed by Gov. Baldacci in 2007

In 2020, there were 23 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. So far in 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of those 29 states.

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President Biden announces intent to nominate six to federal judgeships

President Joe Biden (D) announced his intent to nominate six individuals to Article III judgeships with lifetime terms on May 12:

  • Gustavo Gelpí, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit
  • Eunice Lee, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  • Veronica Rossman, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit
  • Angel Kelley, U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts
  • Lauren King, U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington
  • Karen Williams, U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

To date, Biden has announced 19 nominees to Article III judgeships. Twelve nominees are awaiting a hearing with the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The next nomination hearings are scheduled for May 13. Seven nominees are awaiting a committee vote. None of the nominees have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate. 

As of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden inherited 46 Article III vacancies: two vacancies in the U.S. courts of appeal, 43 vacancies in the U.S. district courts, and one vacancy on the U.S. Court of International Trade. Biden announced his first federal judicial nominees on March 30.

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President Biden nominates three additional individuals to Article III judgeships

President Joe Biden (D) nominated three individuals to Article III judgeships on April 29. With the addition of these three, Biden has nominated a total of 13 individuals to Article III judgeships since the start of his term. At the time of this writing, none of Biden’s Article III nominees have been confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

David Estudillo is a nominee to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Estudillo is currently the presiding judge on the Grant County Superior Court in Washington state. He was appointed to the court in 2015 by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) and subsequently won election to the seat in 2016 and 2020. Prior to becoming a judge, he was an attorney in private practice. Estudillo earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 1996 and his J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law in 1999.

Tana Lin is also a nominee to the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. Lin is currently of counsel at the law firm of Keller Rohrback LLP, where she has practiced law in various capacities since 2004. She earned her bachelor’s degree, with distinction, from Cornell University in 1988 and her J.D. from the New York University School of Law in 1991.

Christine O’Hearn is a nominee to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. O’Hearn is currently a partner with the law firm of Brown & Connery LLP, which she joined in 1993. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 1990 and her J.D. from the James E. Beasley School of Law at Temple University in 1993.

Biden’s other 10 Article III nominees include:

• Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

• Tiffany Cunningham, to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

• Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

• Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

• Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland

• Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland

• Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

• Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

• Margaret Strickland, to the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico

As of April 1, there were 69 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary of 870 total Article III judgeships. These judges serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, which created and enumerated the powers of the judiciary. They are appointed for life terms. A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away.

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President Biden has announced 10 nominations for Article III judgeships

President Joe Biden (D) has announced his intent to nominate 10 individuals to Article III courts for lifetime judgeships as of April 1. As of this writing, the official nominations have not yet been submitted to the U.S. Senate. 

For comparison with the previous administration, President Donald Trump (R) made his first Article III judicial nomination by February 1, 2017, when he nominated Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Trump’s first successful appointment–where the nominee was confirmed–occurred by May 1 of his first year, when Gorsuch was confirmed to SCOTUS.

Since 1901, the earliest successful Article III appointment, meaning the nominee was confirmed, was made by President Richard Nixon (R). Nixon appointed a federal district judge by March 1 of his first year in office. Three presidents–Theodore Roosevelt (R), Calvin Coolidge (R), and Gerald Ford (R)–made the fewest with zero judicial appointments during their first year in office.

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.

As of this writing, there were 73 current vacancies in the federal judiciary of 870 total Article III judgeships. Including non-Article III judges from the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, there were 77 vacancies out of 890 active federal judicial positions.

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New Jersey Governor announces nomination of state supreme court justice

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy (D) announced on March 15 that he would nominate Rachel Wainer Apter to the New Jersey Supreme Court. She will replace Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who is retiring on Aug. 31.

Wainer Apter has served as a director with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, a counsel to the New Jersey Attorney General, and an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union. From 2011 to 2012, Wainer Apter was a law clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and has also clerked for federal judges Robert Katzmann and Jed Rakoff.

State law requires supreme court nominees to pass the “advice and consent” of the state Senate one week after the governor issues a public notice of the nomination. 

This is Gov. Murphy’s second nominee to the seven-member supreme court. The court will switch from a 4-3 majority of justices appointed by Republican governors to a 4-3 majority of justices appointed by Democratic governors. According to state law, the New Jersey governor may appoint justices to have up to a one-seat partisan advantage on the court, but he or she may go no further than that.

Twenty-six state supreme courts have Republican majorities, 16 have Democratic majorities, and eight have split or indeterminate majorities.

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Biden made no federal judicial appointments through March 1, same as previous administrations

President Joe Biden (D) has not yet made any Article III federal judicial appointments through March 1 of his first year in office. This is equal to the number of Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since President Ronald Reagan (R). 

Both the average and median numbers of federal judges appointed by a president through March 1 of their first year in office are zero.

Since 1981, during a president’s first year in office: 

• The average number of Supreme Court justices appointed is one. Presidents Donald Trump (R), Barack Obama (D), Bill Clinton (D), and Reagan each appointed one Supreme Court justice.

• The average number of United States Court of Appeals judges appointed is six. Trump appointed the most with 12, and Clinton and Obama are tied for appointing the fewest with three.

• The average number of United States District Court judges appointed is 17. Reagan appointed the most, 32, and Trump appointed the fewest with six.

• Reagan had appointed the most Article III federal judges during his first year in office with 41, while Obama had appointed the fewest in that time with 13. 

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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President Biden has not made any federal judicial appointments through February 1 of his first year in office

As of February 1, 2021, President Joe Biden (D) had not appointed any Article III federal judges. The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through February 1 of their first year in office is zero. 

Through the first year in office, President Ronald Reagan (R) made the most appointments with 41, and President Barack Obama (D) made the fewest with 13.

Through the fourth year in office, President Donald Trump (R) made the most appointments with 234. President Ronald Reagan (R) made the fewest in that time with 166.

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.

Upon assuming office, President Biden inherited 46 Article III lifetime federal judicial vacancies. As of February 1, there were 57 vacancies. 

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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.



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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SCOTUS issues ruling in case concerning Delaware’s method of judicial selection

On December 11, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a unanimous ruling in the case Carney v. Adams. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit and concerned judicial selection in Delaware. The case was argued during the court’s October Term for 2020-2021 on October 5, 2020.

The case: As of December 2019, when Delaware Governor John Carney Jr. (D) filed a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, Article IV, Section 3 of the Delaware Constitution required that no more than the bare majority of judges on a given Delaware court could be of the same political party. 

James Adams, a retired lawyer, sued Gov. Carney in federal district court. Adams argued Article IV, Section 3 violated the First Amendment. In response, Carney argued that Adams did not have the legal right, or standing, to file a lawsuit. A federal magistrate judge ruled the state constitution’s provision was unconstitutional. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the federal district court’s ruling. 

Gov. Carney, acting in his official capacity, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing the 3rd Circuit’s decision conflicted with decisions in similar cases from the 2nd Circuit, 6th Circuit, and the 7th Circuit.

The issues: 

(1) Does the First Amendment invalidate the Delaware Constitution’s “bare majority” requirement? 

(2) Was the 3rd Circuit wrong to hold that part of the Delaware Constitution’s “bare majority” requirement is not severable from the rest of the requirement? 

(3) Does the respondent have standing?

The outcome: The court vacated the 3rd Circuit’s decision in an 8-0 ruling, holding that James Adams, the respondent, did not have standing to sue the governor of Delaware. Justice Stephen Breyer wrote the opinion and Justice Sonia Sotomayor filed a concurring opinion. Justice Amy Coney Barrett did not take part in the case’s consideration or decision.

As of December 14, 2020, the court had issued opinions in nine cases this term. Four cases were decided without argument.

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