John J. Parker’s failed Supreme Court nomination

Columnist Ray Hill at The Knoxville Focus has been running an interesting multi-part series on the nomination of Judge John J. Parker to the Supreme Court in 1930. Judge Parker, who was serving on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, would narrowly lose his confirmation vote due to the complex political alignments of the era. He would continue to serve on the Fourth Circuit until his death in 1958.

Parker has long been an interesting character from the perspective of federal court organization and administration. A politician before he began his judicial career, Parker was very closely tied to the leadership of the American Bar Association, and was one of the principal architects of the “Queen Mary Compromise” which created the modern Judicial Conference of the United States. (Interested readers can learn more here.)

Ray Hill’s pieces paint a vivid history of the Parker nomination, from the surprise opening on the Court occasioned by Justice Edward Sanford’s untimely death (after a routine dental appointment), to the rift within the Republican Party, to the shifting political demographics of the South. Although all four parts collectively feel repetitive at times, it’s a valuable overview of a fascinating moment in history.

The four parts of the series can be found here, here, here, and here.


The mortifying state of our Supreme Court confirmation politics

The first of a series of posts about the politics of filling the Supreme Court vacancy created by the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

So here we are, not even five years removed from the embarrassing political melee that followed the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, and the same movie is playing out in even more absurd fashion.

Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is working the Republican back benches to ensure a yes vote for the President’s Supreme Court nominee — never mind that there is, as of yet, no nominee to vote on. This is the same Senator McConnell who refused to even hold a hearing for then-nominee Merrick Garland in 2016 on the flimsy pretext that it was too late into a election year. To call McConnell’s reversal hypocritical is an insult to hypocrisy.

Remarkably, the Democrats have acquitted themselves even more poorly. After hectoring the American public in 2016 with the smug insistence that the Senate must vote on the Garland nomination (using the Twitter hashtag #DoYourJob), and after four years of accusing the Republicans of “stealing” the seat by not holding a hearing for Garland, the Democrats now declare —with no apparent sense of irony — that they will do everything possible to prevent a vote on the as-yet-unnamed nominee. The charge has been led, most distressingly, by the Democrats’ own Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who previously pledged to shirk her Senate duties by refusing in advance to vote for any Trump appellate court nominee, and who now promises an extended vacancy crisis in connection with her efforts to raise campaign funds

How did we get here? Continue reading “The mortifying state of our Supreme Court confirmation politics”

Connecticut Senate rejects McDonald nomination

Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Andrew McDonald’s bid for that court’s chief justiceship came to an end yesterday, when the state senate rejected his nomination by a 19-16 vote. One Senator abstained due to personal conflicts.

The nomination seemed troubled from the start. McDonald has been a close political associate of Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy for years, and that affiliation hurt him during the confirmation process. He drew a 20-20 tie vote in committee, and barely passed through the Connecticut House on a 75-74 vote. In the Senate, his nomination was opposed by every Republican, as well as one Democrat.

Some have been quick to blame the failed nomination on McDonald’s status as an openly gay man, suggesting that the opposition was driven by homophobia. But cooler heads have pointed out that McDonald was not helped by Malloy’s animated approach to the nomination, which evidently included promises to fill the next open seat on the court with a Republican. If anything, McDonald’s nomination was undone by classic politics — that is, authentic disputes over public policy — rather than modern identity politics. Better than his nomination had not come down to politics at all, but the insinuation that he is not chief justice today because of his sexual orientation is offensive to all sensible people.

Connecticut governor floats Supreme Court horse-trading

Still working to get his nominee Andrew MacDonald confirmed as the state’s chief justice, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy has “signaled a willingness” to fill MacDonald’s Associate Justice seat with former Republican Senator Andrew Roraback. Roraback is currently a trial judge.

The state senate seems unconvinced:

Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said Thursday the confirmation of McDonald, who would be the first openly gay chief justice, will be made independently of Roraback’s chances for professional advancement.

“I believe the governor has not made Roraback a nominee,” Fasano said. “The issue is not whether or not he does. The issue is whether or not Justice McDonald should be chief justice.”

The new and old style of politics in judicial selection

Earlier I reported on the deadlock in the Connecticut Judiciary Committee over the nomination of Justice Andrew McDonald to become that state’s next Chief Justice. The entire legislature will take up the nomination next Monday. In the meantime, certain trolls have apparently posted homophobic slurs about McDonald on the internet. (McDonald, a former Democratic legislator, is openly gay.) And in response, a left-leaning lobbying group called True Justice has created a digital ad accusing Republican opponents of McDonald’s nomination of “hate” and “homophobia.” The Republican leadership has been insistent that its opposition has nothing to do with McDonald’s sexual orientation, which seems wholly plausible since it was never an issue when McDonald was originally confirmed to the bench five years ago.

To be clear, it certainly does appear that Republican opposition to McDonald’s ascension is politically based — they would prefer someone with more conservative (or less liberal) credentials. This intersection of law and politics is perhaps unavoidable in the modern age, but it still hurts the credibility and perceived impartiality of the judiciary. Legislative Republicans would be better off confirming an accomplished jurist to the position for which he was duly nominated, and liberal agitators would be better off by not trying to turn every policy decision with which they disagree into hysteria and name-calling.

Meanwhile, Hawaii’s federal district court will soon have new judges, thanks in large part to tried-and-true backroom politics. This article lays out the interesting negotiations between the White House and Hawaii’s Democratic senators to get a number of federal judicial nominees confirmed. Score one for the old style of politics.

Major controversy brews over judicial appointment in Ireland

A significant political controversy appears to be brewing in Ireland after the outgoing Taoiseach (prime minister), appointed Attorney General Maire Whelan to a seat on the country’s second highest court. Minority parties in the government, including Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein, have charged that the appointment violated established procedures. It also appears that Whelan never sought the post.

Continue reading “Major controversy brews over judicial appointment in Ireland”