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May 8, 2017

A few (too-quick) sentencing notes on Prez Trump's new slate of judicial nominees ... and seeking more

This Politico article and this New York Times article both report that President Donald Trump will today be making a bunch of nominations to the lower federal courts.  Here are the basics via the Times, with links from the original:

One is Justice Joan L. Larsen, a former law clerk to Justice Antonin Scalia and law professor at the University of Michigan, who now serves on the Michigan Supreme Court. She will be nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati.  [Another] is Justice David R. Stras, a former law clerk to Justice Clarence Thomas and law professor at the University of Minnesota, who now serves on the Minnesota Supreme Court. He will be nominated to the Eighth Circuit, in St. Louis....

Monday’s slate of nominees will be followed by additional ones at regular intervals, the White House official said.

The announcement on Monday will include three other nominees for federal appeals courts: Amy Coney Barrett, a law professor at Notre Dame and former law clerk to Justice Scalia, to the Seventh Circuit in Chicago; John K. Bush, a lawyer in Louisville, Ky., to the Sixth Circuit; and Kevin C. Newsom, a lawyer in Birmingham, Ala., who served as the state’s solicitor general and as a law clerk to Justice David H. Souter, to the 11th Circuit in Atlanta....

Mr. Trump also intends to nominate four judges to federal district courts: Dabney L. Friedrich, until recently a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, to the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia; Magistrate Judge Terry F. Moorer of the Federal District Court in Montgomery, Ala., to be a district judge there; David C. Nye, a state judge in Idaho, to the Federal District Court there; and Scott L. Palk, an official at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, to the Federal District Court in Oklahoma City.  The president will also name Damien M. Schiff, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which supports private property rights, to the United States Court of Federal Claims.

For hard-core  sentencing fans, at least one name on this list should immediately jump off the page: Dabney Friedrich.  She served with distinction as a US Sentencing Commissioner from 2006 to 2016, and if confirmed to the DC District Court, she will join its current Chief Judge Beryl Howell and also Judge Ketanji Brown-Jackson as former Commissioners turned DC District sentencing judges.

Digging a little deeper for additional sentencing intrigue among persons on the Trump nomination list, this post at Above the Law from last week noted that Professor Barrett co-wrote an interesting article back in 1998, titled Catholic Judges in Capital Cases, which explores whether and how Catholic judges can and should be involved in enforcing the death penalty as members of the judiciary.  It will very interesting if this article gets any significant attention from folks on both the left and the right as her confirmation hearings approach.

Digging even deeper, checking out the firm bio of John Bush reveals not only that his practice areas include "White Collar Criminal Defense" but also that one of his listed "Representative Cases & Achievements" includes being "one of the attorneys who represented former Los Angeles Police Sergeant Stacey Koon in his successful sentencing appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court in the Rodney King case." 

There are many other interesting aspects to this list of nominees.  I am struck, for example, that three of the five circuit court nominees have significant histories as law professors.  But, of course, my sentencing focus makes me especially interested to think about how these and other Trump judicial nominees might shape sentencing jurisprudence.  And, as my post title indicates, I welcome and encourage reader input (via comments or email) with any additional information or thoughtful speculation about the criminal justice perspectives that some or all of these nominees will bring to their new positions.

UPDATE: A bit more looking around reveals that three of the four nominees to be federal district judges are former federal prosecutors. (The one exception appears to be Judge Nye, and he notably was previously nominated by Prez Obama for the same job that Prez Trump is now to nominate him for.) President Trump seems likely, at least based on this list of nominees, to continue a long-standing tradition of elevating a significant number of former prosecutors to the federal bench.

May 8, 2017 at 11:06 AM | Permalink


I sort of hoped there would be a "Justice Joan L. Larsen" of a different kind now.

Sure I disagree with her on various issues and find the confirmation by definition problematic, but her background as a state judge alone made her different than the usual federal courts of appeals conservative fanboy source pool Gorsuch.

Posted by: Joe | May 8, 2017 11:32:40 AM

Larsen was my crim pro professor at Michigan. She taught the class very even handedly-- an observer never would have guessed about her conservative background. In terms of GOP nominees, I can't think of a better one.

Posted by: Chris | May 8, 2017 11:36:18 AM

Prof. Leah Litman, a member of the anti-Trump "Take Care" blog, also tweeted:

"Thrilled to see @justice_larsen replace him, but sad Judge McKeague is taking senior status--he's smart, kind, & cares (& is careful)" Yes, Larsen has a Twitter page.

BTW, I flagged Larsen as a possible Supreme Court justice in the past, in part suggesting it would be a good strategic choice.

Posted by: Joe | May 8, 2017 12:04:15 PM

"I am struck, for example, that three of the five circuit court nominees have significant histories as law professors."

Don't get your hopes up, Doug.

Posted by: Dabiel | May 8, 2017 12:45:05 PM

You don't think, Dabiel, that I could get on a short list by starting to blog a lot about how great Trump is at building and playing golf courses? :-)

Posted by: Doug B | May 8, 2017 12:54:56 PM

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