U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Goodwin, of the Western District of Oklahoma, has been deemed “unqualified” for the position of district judge by the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. President Trump nominated Judge Goodwin to the district bench in July. The ABA gave no direct explanation for the “unqualified” designation.
Although the ABA’s evaluations of federal nominees date back to the Eisenhower Administration, recall that the Trump Administration has declined to share the names of its potential nominees with the ABA before nominations are announced. That approach (rare, but also used by George W. Bush) increases the likelihood that a nominee will be publicly identified as unqualified. (Potential nominees who receive a poor evaluation before an announcement is made can always be quietly dumped by the administration).
Judge Goodwin’s evaluation was not publicly released by the ABA; it was evidently leaked from a memorandum send to Senators Charles Grassley and Dianne Feinstein. And Oklahoma’s Senators are standing by the nominee. But now that the evaluation is out, it raises serious questions about the qualifications and temperament of a sitting federal magistrate judge. Although magistrate judges do not serve for life, they do serve eight-year renewable terms. Judge Goodwin assumed the bench in 2013, and would be in place until at least 2021. It might prove to be an uncomfortable four years, and a more uncomfortable reappointment process, if his district court nomination is unsuccessful
The Oklahoma Supreme Court broadcast its first oral arguments this week, in a case involving a challenge to an increase on state cigarette taxes. The Tulsa World editorializes:
We hope the Supreme Court — and the lower courts under its jurisdiction — will find a way to continue allowing live broadcasts of important cases. Such a move would remove the mystery of the judicial process and give the people a greater sense of ownership of their own courts.
State courts, leading the way.
President Trump nominated eleven people to federal district judgeships yesterday, covering districts in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Tennessee. Once again, I am struck by the nominees’ breadth of experience. The group of eleven includes five attorneys in private practice, three state court judges, one United States Magistrate Judge, one law professor, and one state legislator. Several of the nominees have practice experience in both the government and the private sector.
As a general matter, I have been very impressed with the quality of judicial nominees coming from the administration. Hopefully Congress will hold swift confirmation hearings on the nominees and begin to cure the severe vacancy crisis in our federal district courts.
When Justice Steven Taylor recently retired from the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Governor Mary Fallin tapped 35-year-old Patrick Wyrick to fill his seat. Seats on the court are geographically distributed, and Wyrick was among three finalists from the state’s Second Judicial District whose names were submitted to the Governor for final consideration. The final nominees were chosen by the state’s Judicial Nomination Commission (JNC).
But now Justice Wyrick’s appointment is being challenged by the Oklahoma Chapter of the ACLU, on the grounds that he does not actually reside in the Second Judicial District. In preliminary arguments last week, Wyrick’s lawyer dismissed the challenge, asserting that the JNC’s selection of the three finalists is effectively unreviewable. The ACLU countered that no state entity, including the JNC, has all-powerful status.
The decision is now before the state supreme court itself, leaving the eight remaining justices to decide the fate of a potential colleague. The ACLU has further requested that any sitting justice who recommended Wyrick for a judicial position be recused from considering the case.
Certainly a fascinating example of court interdependence that bears watching.