The Supreme Court today upheld federal health insurance subsidies for more than six million low and middle-income people in a 6-3 vote. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the majority opinion in King v. Burwell, holding that the health care act does not limit the subsidies for health care policies purchased only on state-created exchanges. The tax credits are available to purchases made through federal exchanges as well. Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.
Hon. John G. Heyburn, II, Senior District Judge for the Western District of Kentucky, died yesterday after a battle with liver cancer. Heyburn was appointed to the bench in 1992 by President George W. Bush. Prior to taking the bench, he was with the firm Brown, Todd & Heyburn for 16 years. Heyburn was in the news recently for his opinion holding that Kentucky’s laws denying same sex marriage violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in Love, et al. v. Steve Beshear. The ruling was struck down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and is currently being argued before the Supreme Court. Lawyers interviewed for the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary described Heyburn as having “superior” legal ability and as one of the “top judges in the country.”
The Senate confirmed Hon. George C. Hanks, Jr. to the district court for the Southern District of Texas. Hanks has served on the court as a Magistrate Judge since 2010, and previously served as a Justice on the First Circuit Court of Appeals of Texas. He received his LLM from Duke Univ. Law School in 2014 and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1989. Lawyers interviewed for the Almanac of the Federal Judiciary said Hanks “has strong legal ability” and “understands complex issues.” They also said he is “friendly” and “respectful” and is an “independent thinker.”
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed it’s first judicial nominee of 2015. By contrast, in the first three months of 2014, the Senate confirmed three circuit court judges and 16 district court judges. There are currently 55 federal court vacancies, with 16 nominations pending. Since January, the Republican controlled Senate has voted only five nominees out of committee, but the number of current vacancies has increased by 12, and the number of judicial emergencies has increased from 12 to 23. According to the Administrative Office of the Courts, the most prolonged vacancies are: Eastern District of North Carolina, since 2005; 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, since 2010; Southern District of Texas, since 2011; 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, since 2012; and, Eastern District of California, since 2012.
Yesterday, the Senate confirmed it’s first judicial nominee of the year, Alfred H. Bennett, to be U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of Texas. Bennett received his B.S. in 1988 from the Univ. of Houston and a J.D. from the Univ. of Texas School of Law. He was with Fulbright & Jaworski from 1991 to 1994, at the law firm of Solar & Fernandes LLP from 1994 to 1998, and later a solo practitioner. Since 2009, he has served as the Presiding Judge for the 61st Civil District Court of Texas.
The White House today announced 17 judicial nominations to the federal bench, among them 11 nominees who did not receive an up or down vote in the 113th Congress.
The nominees are: Ann Donnelly and LaShann Moutique DeArcy Hall, for the Eastern District of New York; George C. Hanks, Alfred H. Bennett, Jose Rolando Olvera, Jr., for the Southern District of Texas; Travis Randall McDonough, for the Eastern District of Tennessee; Roseann A. Ketchmark, for the Western District of Missouri; Dale A. Drozd, for the Eastern District of California;, Jill N. Parrish, for the District of Utah; Hon. Luis Felipe Restrepo, for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit; Kara Farnandez Stoll, for the Federal Circuit; Jeanne E. Davidson, for the U.S. Court of International Trade; Armando Omar Bonilla, Thomas L. Halkowski, Patricia M. McCarthy, Jeri Kaylene Somers, and Hon. Nancy Firestone (for reappointment) for the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
After six years in office, President Obama has had more than 300 federal judges confirmed, more than either of his last two predecessors. Eighty-nine of these confirmations came in 2014, after Senate Democrats instituted a rule change which did away with the filibuster for most judicial nominations. According to the Brookings Institution, 27 of Obama’s nominees were confirmed during the lame-duck session, which is the most ever in lame-duck history.
When Obama first took office, 10 of the 13 appeals courts had a majority of judges appointed by Republican presidents. Now, Democratic appointees form the majority in nine of the appeals courts, and currently only seven of 179 appeals court seats are vacant.
The Senate confirmed the following 13 judges in November: Leigh M. May, Mark H. Cohen and Eleanor L. Ross, Northern District of Georgia; Leslie J. Abrams, Middle District of Georgia; Randolph Moss, District of Maryland; Madeline Cox Arleo, District of New Jersey; Victor Bolden, District of Connecticut; Wendy Beetlestone, Eastern District of Pennsylvania; Brenda K. Sannes, Northern District of New York; Pamela Pepper, Eastern District of Wisconsin, and; Tamara Ashford, L. Paige Marvel and Cary Pugh, U.S. Tax Court.
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, earlier this week announced his intention to chair the Senate Judiciary Committee. In a statement to the press, he said that the committee “should not be a rubber stamp” for the president’s nominations, but promised to “work to confirm consensus nominees.” Grassley outlined attributes he considers important in nominees, including “intellectual ability, respect for the Constitution, fidelity to the law, personal integrity, appropriate judicial temperament, and professional competence.” He will be the first non-lawyer to chair the Judiciary Committee.