Tag Archives: federal judiciary

POTUS fills judicial post with an inferior choice

Mary Lou Robinson once was hailed as the role model for judicial excellence during her time as the presiding judge of the Northern District of Texas.

Judge Robinson — who was appointed to the newly created judgeship in 1980 by President Carter — died earlier this year, giving Donald Trump a chance to fill her spot on the federal bench with his own pick. Who does he choose? A fellow named Matthew Kacsmaryk, who has elicited alarm among LGBT activists and other civil libertarians because of his decidedly anti-gay track record while working for right-wing think tanks and assorted political organizations.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed Kacsmaryk to the post in a virtually partisan vote; one Republican senator, Susan Collins of Maine, broke party ranks to join Senate Democrats in opposing Kacsmaryk.

Well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at the lowering of judicial standards in one of our nation’s courts.

Kacsmaryk’s writings and advocacy against gay rights and his comments about transgender children are cause for alarm. Indeed, one did not hear a hint of that kind of judicial philosophy about the woman he is succeeding in that court.

According to NBC NewsMara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, slammed the appointment.

“Transgender youth and their families are facing a crisis in this country, and they cannot afford an unqualified and clearly biased nominee like Matthew Kacsmaryk,” Keisling said in a statement shared with NBC News. “Our country needs fair-minded judges free of irrational prejudices against marginalized people.”

I interviewed many state and county judicial candidates during my years in the Texas Panhandle and almost all of them would cite the late Judge Robinson as their role model for judicial temperament, knowledge of the law and fairness from the bench.

Will the new judge elicit that kind of praise? Hah!

Sen. Romney stands on principle in voting ‘no’ on judge

I know that a single U.S. Senate vote does not signal a trend, but I have to be heartened by a principled “no” vote cast by Utah’s freshman Republican senator, Mitt Romney.

The former GOP presidential nominee was the lone Republican to vote against the nomination of Beaumont lawyer Michael Truncale to be a U.S. district judge. Truncale won confirmation by a narrow 49-46 vote to take a seat on the bench representing East Texas.

Why the “no” vote from Romney? Because Truncale describe President Obama in 2011 as an “un-American imposter,” which quite naturally was seen by many as a play into the “birther” lie that plagued Obama during much of his presidency; you know, what he was born in Kenya and, thus, was ineligible to run for, let alone serve as, president of the United States.

“He said some things disparaging of President (Barack) Obama and having been the Republican nominee in 2012, I couldn’t sign onto that for a district judge,” Romney told CNN.

Romney has demonstrated that he won’t be Donald Trump’s “yes man” on all matters that come before the Senate.

Truncale received a grilling from Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats about the remark and he answered that “it is possible” he was expressing frustration over what he called Obama’s lack of “overt patriotism.”

Yeah, sure thing, bub. Suppose he was merely popping off at that false assumption. Doesn’t that, therefore, speak to the man’s judicial temperament, or the lack thereof?

Romney famously said during the 2012 Al Smith Memorial Dinner in New York that he and President Obama — who were locked in a fierce battle for the White House at the time — did not harbor personal “ill will” toward each other despite their widely divergent world views.

Sen. Romney’s “no” vote against Michael Truncale keeps faith with that declaration.

This judge set the bar quite high for others to clear

I do not believe it is an overstatement to declare that the Texas Panhandle legal community has lost a legendary figure.

Senior U.S. District Judge Mary Lou Robinson was that rare individual whom others aspired to emulate. She died this past weekend at the age of 92. To say she will be “missed” is to say that the Super Bowl is “just another football game.”

During my nearly 18 years as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, I was privileged to interview dozens of candidates for state and county judgeships. Most of them were serious about seeking the job and in serving their community and state. Almost to a person they would include a laudatory statement about Judge Robinson. They would say that this veteran jurist set the standard for judicial excellence. They intended to pattern their conduct on the bench after her.

Yes, she was revered by those within the legal community.

Judge Robinson was a pioneering individual. She was the first woman to serve on the Potter County court at law bench; she would serve on the state district court bench and then on the Seventh Court of Appeals. After that she became the first judge appointed to fill a seat in the newly created Northern U.S. Judicial District of Texas. President Carter appointed her in 1980 and she worked full time as a federal judge until only recently, when she took “senior status,” enabling her to preside over trials of her choosing.

And let us not forget her presiding over the widely covered “beef trial” involving Oprah Winfrey, who got sued by some Panhandle cattlemen over a remark she made about mad cow disease during one of her TV shows. The cattlemen wanted the trial to occur in Amarillo, perhaps thinking they could get a favorable ruling from a local judge.

Winfrey prevailed in the lawsuit.

I did not know Judge Robinson well, although we did serve in the same Rotary Club for many years. She was always gracious, even though she knew I was a member of the media. I mention that because Judge Robinson rarely conducted interviews; I always had the sense that she was mildly uncomfortable with those of us who reported on and commented on issues of the day.

I want to share one more quick story. The Globe-News welcomed a young reporter some years ago who I believe was assigned to cover the courts. He wanted to meet Judge Robinson, who he knew only by reputation; he asked me if I could arrange the meeting. I approached the judge at a Rotary Club meeting and asked her if she would be willing to meet this young man. She agreed.

They met in her office in downtown Amarillo and, according to my colleague, she could not have been warmer, more welcoming and gracious. I recall him telling me she wanted to talk mostly “about her grandchildren” and showed off pictures of her family.

The jurists who will continue to seek to emulate this judicial icon could not have chosen a better model.

CNN/Acosta matter contains quiet back story

Psst. Let me bring you in on a secret that virtually no one is talking about.

Federal Judge Timothy Kelly’s ruling that required Donald Trump and the White House to reinstate CNN reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials speaks to the value of an independent federal judiciary.

The president ordered Acosta’s White House press pass yanked after the two men had a contentious exchange during a press conference the day after the midterm election.

CNN filed a complaint against the White House. Late this past week, Judge Kelly ruled in favor of CNN.

What makes the story interesting is that Kelly is a Donald Trump appointment. The new president nominated Kelly to the federal bench and he was confirmed by the Senate.

We’ve all talked at length about how U.S. Supreme Court justices side with the presidents who nominate them. The same occasionally is said about lower-court federal judges.

Judge Kelly took off in the opposite direction. His ruling wasn’t overly harsh, but it did go against the president who nominated him.

I mention this because it validates the value of an independent federal judiciary and the fact that these judges get lifetime appointments, leaving them free to rule independently. They are charged with interpreting the U.S. Constitution and with determining whether government actions concur or run counter to constitutional principles.

The president’s revocation of Acosta’s press credentials didn’t make the constitutional grade and Judge Kelly sided with the Constitution . . . and not the president who selected him.

That’s a good sign for the health of our federal judicial system.

CNN, Acosta score a win for the First Amendment

I am wondering now if Donald Trump’s “enemies of the people” list has just grown by one member.

U.S. District Court Judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee to the federal bench, has ruled that the White House must restore CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta’s press credentials.

The president ordered Acosta’s credentials yanked after he and the correspondent got into another public tussle at a press conference the day after the midterm election. It isn’t the first time Trump and Acosta have jousted.

Let me be clear on one thing. I detest the idea of a reporter becoming part of the story. That simply is not right. Acosta has this annoying way of thrusting himself onto the stage when reporting the news. For his part, though, the president reacts hideously when confronted with reporters who ask him tough questions.

The crux of the judge’s ruling seems to center on the stated reasons the White House yanked Acosta’s credentials. It changed its story, but the final version of the White House’s rationale is insufficient to merit such a drastic move, according to Judge Kelly.

This is a victory on behalf of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, the one that guarantees “freedom of the press” from government interference. And, yes, given the political nature of judicial appointments, I find it fascinating that a Trump-nominated judge would rule against this particular president who’s made such a hash of his dispute with the media.

If only now we can get back to some form of what’s called in Congress “regular order.” That means reporters ask questions, the person who gets the questions answers them, and the reporters move on to the next question. This White House vs. The Media idiocy has to stop. How about it stopping right now?

As for the judge ruling against the president who nominated him, it validates the notion that lifetime appointments have this liberating effect on those who have the authority to rule from the federal bench.

Federal judiciary: more political than ever?

I have long supported the principle of an “independent” federal judiciary, whose members are given jobs for life if they choose to stay at their post for as long as they draw breath.

The nation’s founders established it all at the beginning, giving the president the power to select these individuals and the U.S. Senate to confirm them.

My thoughts — naive though they were — believed that such independence would insulate judges from political pressure.

Oh, man! I was as wrong as I could be.

Brett Kavanaugh has provided us just yet another example of how mistaken I have been. Donald J. Trump selected him to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the U.S. Supreme Court. The president has made his judicial preferences clear: He intends to nominate judges who will toss out Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that legalized abortion.

Thus, the political wind has swirled all over Judge Kavanaugh. He has said something about Roe being “settled law,” which gave pro-choice advocates some hope that he would leave the ruling alone were he to have to decide a case down the road.

Others aren’t so sure.

Presidential elections surely have consequences. Trump won the 2016 election and already has won the confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the nation’s highest court. Kavanaugh is set to join the court.

Is he free of political pressure? No. He isn’t. Not by a long shot. Indeed, all federal judges — from trial bench judges, to all level of appellate court judges — face political pressure. It doesn’t let up after they take their seats on the bench. Yes, it gathers incredible steam as they seek confirmation.

I won’t back down from my strong belief in presidential appointment of federal judges. Their lifetime jobs give them some semblance of independence from run-of-the-mill political pressure.

Sadly, it doesn’t eliminate it.

B’bye, Sheriff Joe, and don’t let the door hit you

Now, maybe — one can hope — Joe Arpaio will disappear from the public stage.

The man known colloquially as Sheriff Joe lost his Arizona Republican primary bid this week to win election to the U.S. Senate. Thank goodness for that!

He finished third in a three-candidate field seeking to succeed retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, a conservative Republican and a man with principles and guts.

Arpaio wasn’t your run-of-the-mill losing candidate. He once was sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz. He also got into trouble with the federal judiciary by ignoring a court order to cease profiling Hispanics who he suspected of being in this country illegally.

For his defiance, he was convicted of a federal offense. But then Donald J. Trump — Arpaio’s newfound political “hero” — pardoned him before he was sentenced for the crime he committed.

And to think that Vice President Mike Pence went to Arizona to campaign for Arpaio, calling him a man who stood “for the rule of law.” Hell, he stood for nothing of the sort! He stood for defying the federal judiciary and, therefore, for breaking the law.

The New York Times called Arpaio a “sadistic” man. That’s good enough for me.

Hit the road, Sheriff Joe. And stay out of sight.

Mary Lou Robinson Courthouse? Yes!

My hunch is that you can take this to the bank: Congress is going to attach a revered federal judge’s name on a courthouse in Amarillo, Texas.

I want to offer my heartiest applause from afar.

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, both Republicans, have introduced legislation to rename the federal courthouse building in downtown Amarillo, the Marvin Jones Federal Building and Mary Lou Robinson United States Courthouse.

Yes, it’s a mouthful. However, Judge Robinson long ago deserved this honor.

The House of Representatives passed House Resolution 5772 by a voice vote this week. It’s headed to the Senate, where Sen. Cornyn is carrying this legislation.

I am honored to have made Judge Robinson’s acquaintance. She and I served in the Rotary Club of Amarillo together, which is where I got to know her.

She remains the gold standard for judicial candidates who seek elected office in the Texas Panhandle. I know that from my job as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News, a job I held for nearly 18 years. Almost to a person, whenever I would ask a candidate after whom they might model their judicial performance, they would mention Mary Lou Robinson. She set the bar high and judicial candidates for county or state district benches would declare their intention to emulate her.

As the Globe-News reported: “Judge Robinson is a legal pioneer who is universally respected and admired,” Thornberry said in an email. “She has always set high standards for herself and others, and our system of justice has benefited. Having the name of these two outstanding public servants on our federal building and courthouse will be a perpetual reminder of their high standards and outstanding contributions to our nation.”

If enacted, this would be the first federal courthouse named after a woman within a five-state area.

She served Potter County’s judicial system, as a court at law judge and as a state district judge; she gravitated to the 7th Court of Appeals. Then in 1977, she received a federal judicial appointment from President Carter.

The building that eventually will carry her name is now known as the Marvin Jones Federal Building and Courthouse.

With all due respect to the great Marvin Jones, he will have to move over to make room for a true judicial giant.

I am delighted to hear about this pending name change.

Federal courts aren’t ‘political’? Guess again

The nation’s founders had the right idea when they created a Constitution that called for lifetime appointments of federal judges.

Part of their intent was to take politics out of the judicial system. Sadly, that intent has been lost. It’s gone. The federal bench is, um, highly political.

Case in point: U.S. Senate Republicans today filled a federal judgeship they kept empty for the past six years during the Obama administration. They voted 49-46 — along party lines — to seat Michael Brennan on the Seventh U.S. Court of Appeals. President Obama had nominated Victoria Nourse to that bench in 2010, but it was held up by Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (pictured above), who exercised a Senate rule that allows a home-state senator to block anyone he or she chooses; Nourse pulled her nomination in 2012.

Indeed, one of the consequences of our federal elections is the federal judiciary and who gets seated. Presidential elections are particularly consequential in that regard. Presidents have the power to set judicial courses for generations through their appointment powers. You’d better believe, too, that politics matters when the Senate considers who to confirm or reject when they exercise their “advise and consent” authority.

Are the federal courts more political than, say, state courts? Hardly. In Texas, we elect judges on partisan ballots. Judicial philosophy or legal credentials take a back seat to which party under which the candidate is running, or so it appears at times in Texas.

The founders sought when they were creating a new nation to deliver a system of justice that would be free of political pressure. I only wish their dream would have come true. More than two centuries later, we hear laypeople/politicians second-guessing judicial rulings — especially when they lack any base of knowledge of the law upon judges make their decision.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way when the nation’s founders were building a nation “of laws, not of men.”

Federal courts: not really politics free

The federal judiciary is supposed to be free of political pressure.

But is it? Really? Oh, I tend to think not.

I find myself looking at federal court rulings a bit differently these days. For instance, the D.C. federal judge who ruled that the Trump administration must keep honoring the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program is an interesting fellow.

Judge John Bates is a President George W. Bush appointee. Thus, I tend to take his decision a bit more seriously than I would if he were appointed by President Barack Obama. Why? Because he upheld an Obama administration decision to create DACA in the first place. DACA, by the way, is the rule that protects U.S. residents who were brought here illegally by their parents; they’re called “Dreamers” because they are pursuing the “American Dream.” Get it?

The founders set up a federal judiciary that was supposed to be free of political pressure. It really isn’t. The judges who get these lifetime appointments are nonetheless examined carefully by people such as me and others who look for political reasons to endorse or condemn whatever ruling they hand down.

That is not to say that they base their decisions according to what others might say about them. Indeed, several Supreme Court justices over the years have veered sharply away from the course the presidents who nominated them hoped they would travel. And they get their share of condemnation from those who want them to adhere to the presidents’ political leanings.

But … they are political appointees. Make no mistake about it.