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Federal Judicial Selection

Federal Judicial Nominating Commissions

In 1974, Florida’s U.S. senators became the first to establish a nominating commission to recruit and recommend candidates for federal district court judgeships. Between 1976 and 1979, senators in 29 other states established 30 ad hoc or permanent district judge nominating commissions, and in 1977 President Carter established by executive order the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission. For more information on the structures and processes of these commissions, see Breaking with tradition: A study of the U.S. district judge nominating commissions and A study of the U.S. Circuit Judge Nominating Commission: Findings, conclusions and recommendations.

Today, senators in several states--California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin--use nominating commissions to screen candidates for federal court vacancies. Similar screening processes have been adopted in other states as well. In Virginia, for example, senators ask state bar associations to submit recommendations for federal judicial vacancies. In Alabama, both the state Democratic Party and a Democratic congressman have established screening committees for filling federal judgeships. In Georgia, the Democratic congressional delegation has selected a twelve-member panel to recommend nominees for the state's federal vacancies, and a similar commission is being established by the Democratic congressman from Maine. The D.C. delegate has reestablished a nominating commission for the District's federal bench as well.

These commissions have traditionally been known as "nominating commissions," but their role is different than that of the judicial nominating commissions that operate in two thirds of the states for state judgeships. While state commissions recommend (or nominate) a short list of candidates directly to the appointing authority, federal commissions submit candidates to U.S. senators, who may then forward their names to the president for possible nomination. While these entities are still referred to as nominating commissions by some senators, in many states they are called screening panels or advisory committees.

Alabama

  • Senator Richard Shelby does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jeff Sessions does not use a judicial nominating commission.
With two Republican U.S. Senators, leading state Democrats established their own processes to screen candidates for federal appointments in late 2008. U.S Representative Artur Davis, the senior Democrat in the state's congressional delegation, selected a panel of two Alabama law school deans and five current or former judges to recommend candidates to become federal judges and prosecutors. The Alabama Democratic Party formed a similar commission. Click here to read more about the two screening processes.

Alaska

  • Senator Lisa Murkowski does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mark Begich does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Arizona

  • Senator John McCain does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jeff Flake does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Arkansas

  • Senator John Boozman does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mark Pryor does not use a judicial nominating commission.

California

  • Senator Barbara Boxer uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Diane Feinstein uses a judicial nominating commission.

In early 2009, California's Democratic U.S. senators each created nominating committees in the state's four federal districts to alternate recommending potential candidates to President Obama for federal judgeships, as well as for U.S. attorney and U.S. marshal positions. These committees screen and interview applicants for open positions.

During the Bush administration, the state's senators and the president's state chair for judicial appointments had jointly established a nominating committee for each district.

Colorado

  • Senator Michael Bennet uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mark Udall uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Udall and Bennet have formed a bipartisan ten-member advisory panel to recommend highly qualified candidates to fill vacancies on Colorado's federal trial courts.

Connecticut

  • Senator Richard Blumenthal uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Chris Murphy uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senator Lieberman and former Senator Dodd formed a seven-member committee to solicit applications, screen candidates, and recommend nominees to fill federal vacancies in the state. The committee's members included five lawyers, an educator, and a businessman.

Delaware

  • Senator Christopher Coons does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Thomas Carper does not use a judicial nominating commission.

District of Columbia

Delegate Norton has assembled a seventeen-member panel known as the federal law enforcement nominating commission to review potential candidates to fill vacancies on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Norton established a similar commission during the Clinton administration, with the commission picking three potential nominees for each opening and Norton selecting one of those nominees to recommend to the president.

Florida

  • Senator Marco Rubio uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Bill Nelson uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Martinez (R) and Nelson (D), along with other members of the state's congressional delegation, have formed a statewide judicial nominating commission to recommend nominees for vacancies on the state's federal district courts. The commission consists of fifty-six members who serve in one of Florida's three federal districts. Senator Nelson appoints the chair of the commission. The commission interviews applicants and forwards the names of six finalists to the senators, who recommend one of the six finalists to President Obama for nomination.

Georgia

  • Senator Johnny Isakson uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Saxby Chambliss uses a judicial nominating commission.

In 2009, the state's Democratic congressional delegation selected a twelve-member panel to screen applicants and recommend nominees for federal district judge, prosecutor, and marshal vacancies in the state. During the previous administration, Senators Chambliss and Isakson each appointed three attorneys to a nonpartisan panel to screen candidates for federal district court and prosecutor vacancies. With the change in administrations, the senators have asked the panel to evaluate proposed nominees referred to them by the White House for comment.

Hawaii

  • Senator Mazie Hirono uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Brian Schatz uses a judicial nominating commission.
The Hawaii Federal Judicial Selection Commission was established in 2006 by Senators Inouye (D) and Akaka (D) to assist in making merit-based recommendations for filling vacancies on the state's U.S. District Court, and vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that are appropriately considered Hawaii seats. The commission consists of nine members, with seven members appointed by the Senators, and two appointed by the state bar.

Idaho

  • Senator James E. Risch does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mike Crapo does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Illinois

  • Senator Mark Kirk uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Richard Durbin uses a judicial nominating commission.

Senator Durbin has formed three bipartisan committees to screen candidates for federal positions in the Northern, Central, and Eastern Districts of the state, and to make recommendations to the White House. The committees are composed of twenty-two members from various aspects of the legal profession. Similar screening committees were used during the Clinton administration.

Elected in November 2010, Senator Kirk is expected to establish a similar process to assist him in screening and recommending potential nominees.

Indiana

  • Senator Daniel R. Coats does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Joe Donnelly does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Iowa

  • Senator Charles Grassley does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Tom Harkin does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Kansas

  • Senator Jerry Moran does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Pat Roberts does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Kentucky

  • Senator Rand Paul does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mitch McConnell does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Louisiana

  • Senator David Vitter does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mary Landrieu does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Maine

  • Senator Angus King does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Susan Collins does not use a judicial nominating commission.
Maine's two congressional representation formed a screening panel of ten attorneys to identify potential nominees for the vacancy created when U.S. District Judge D. Brock Hornby assumed senior status.

Maryland

  • Senator Barbara Mikulski does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Ben Cardin does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Massachusetts

  • Senator Elizabeth Warren uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Mo Cowan does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Senators Kennedy and Kerry established a twelve-member advisory committee to recommend candidates for federal judge, prosecutor, and marshal positions in Massachusetts. The committee was described as being composed of bar leaders from across the state with a broad range of professional experience. Continuing the policy of her predecessors, Senator Warren has named an advisory committee to fill a similar role. It is  unclear whether interim Senator Mo Cowan will be involved.

Michigan

  • Senator Carl Levin uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Debbie Stabenow uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Levin and Stabenow have established vetting committees to recommend nominees to fill federal judge, prosecutor, and marshal vacancies in the Eastern and Western Districts of the state. The Eastern District committee has 25 members, and the Western District committee has 22 members. Each committee determines its own procedures for reviewing candidates.

Minnesota

  • Senator Amy Klobuchar uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Al Franken does not use a judicial nominating commission.
Senator Klobuchar has formed an eight-member judicial selection committee to assist her in identifying candidates for a federal judicial vacancy. Senator Franken will submit recommendations to the committee.

Mississippi

  • Senator Thad Cochran does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Roger Wicker does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Missouri

  • Senator Roy Blunt does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Claire McCaskill does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Montana

  • Senator Max Baucus uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator John Tester does not use a judicial nominating commission.
In December 2010, Senator Baucus formed a geographically diverse, bipartisan panel of five attorneys to recommend one or more candidates to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy.

Nebraska

  • Senator Mike Johanns does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Deb Fischer does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Nevada

  • Senator Harry Reid does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Dean Heller does not use a judicial nominating commission.

New Hampshire

  • Senator Kelly Ayotte does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jeanne Shaheen does not use a judicial nominating commission.

New Jersey

  • Senator Frank Lautenberg does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Robert Menendez does not use a judicial nominating commission.

New Mexico

  • Senator Tom Udall does not use a judicial nominating commission.

New York

  • Senator Charles Schumer does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand does not use a judicial nominating commission.

North Carolina

  • Senator Richard Burr does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Kay Hagan uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senator Hagan has appointed a four-member panel to screen candidates who may be appointed to serve as federal judges or prosecutors. The panel is chaired by a former state supreme court chief justice, with members representing the eastern, western, and central regions of the state.

North Dakota

  • Senator John Hoeven does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Heidi Heitkamp does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Ohio

  • Senator Rob Portman uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Sherrod Brown uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Brown and Voinovich have formed two bipartisan judicial advisory commissions, one for the Northern District and one for the Southern District, to screen and recommend candidates for federal positions in the state. Each commission is composed of 17 members. To prevent any conflicts of interest, Southern District commission members will screen applicants for the Northern District and Northern District members will screen applicants for the Southern District.

Oklahoma

  • Senator Thomas Coburn does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator James Inhofe does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Oregon

  • Senator Ron Wyden uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jeff Merkley uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Wyden and Merkley appointed a 13-member selection committee to screen candidates for federal judicial vacancies in the state.

Pennsylvania

  • Senator Pat Toomey uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Robert Casey, Jr. uses a judicial nominating commission.

Rhode Island

  • Senator Jack Reed does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Sheldon Whitehouse does not use a judicial nominating commission.

South Carolina

  • Senator Tim Scott does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Lindsay Graham does not use a judicial nominating commission.

South Dakota

  • Senator John Thune does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Tim Johnson does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Tennessee

  • Senator Lamar Alexander does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Robert Corker does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Texas

  • Senator Ted Cruz uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator John Cornyn uses a judicial nominating commission.

Since 1986, the state's U.S. senators have used a federal judicial evaluation committee to vet applicants for vacancies on the state's federal courts. The committee reviews applicants' resumes, conducts interviews, and forwards the names of highly qualified candidates to the senators, who then recommend a candidate to the president. Over the years, the size of the committee has ranged from 28 to 40 members who are appointed by the senators, with members responsible for vacancies in the federal district in which they reside. The committee currently consists of 35 members and includes several Democrats.

Members of the state's Democratic congressional delegation are also recommending candidates to fill vacant federal positions in the state.

Utah

  • Senator Mike Lee does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Orrin Hatch does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Vermont

  • Senator Patrick Leahy uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Bernie Sanders uses a judicial nominating commission.
Senators Leahy and Sanders have assembled a nine-member panel of attorneys to recommend candidates for federal judgeships in the state. Each senator appoints three members of the panel, with the remaining three appointed by the Vermont Bar Association. Congressman Peter Welch will also have input during the selection process.

Virginia

  • Senator Mark R. Warner does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Tim Kaine does not use a judicial nominating commission.
In early 2009, Democratic Senators Warner and Webb asked statewide bar groups to recommend candidates to fill existing judicial vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and in the Eastern District of Virginia. The senators received recommendations from the Virginia Bar Association, while the Virginia State Bar rated applicants as highly qualified, qualified, or not qualified. Click here to read more about the VSB's judicial nominations committee, which evaluates candidates for both federal and state judgeships.

Washington

  • Senator Patty Murray uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Maria Cantwell uses a judicial nominating commission.
Since 1997, a bipartisan screening committee has been used to vet applicants for most vacancies on Washington's federal district courts. The committee conducts interviews and makes merit-based recommendations to the state's U.S. senators and the president, and the committee's recommendations are generally followed.

West Virginia

  • Senator Joe Manchin III does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Jay Rockefeller does not use a judicial nominating commission.

Wisconsin

  • Senator Ron Johnson uses a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator Tammy Baldwin uses a judicial nominating commission.

In 2009, Senators Kohl (D) and Feingold (D) activated the state's eleven-member nominating commission to recommend qualified candidates to fill vacancies on the state's U.S. District Courts and vacancies on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that are appropriately considered Wisconsin seats. Use of a federal nominating commission in Wisconsin dates back to 1979.

When both senators are of the same political party as the president, each senator appoints four members of the commission. When only one senator is of the same party as the president, that senator appoints five members and the senator of the other party appoints three members. When both senators are of a different political party than the president, each senator appoints two members of the commission, and the most senior elected official of the president's party appoints four members. Two members of the commission are appointed by the State Bar of Wisconsin, and the final member is the dean of one of the state's law schools (Marquette University or the University of Wisconsin, depending on the district in which the vacancy exists).

Click here to view the commission's charter.

Wyoming

  • Senator Mike Enzi does not use a judicial nominating commission.
  • Senator John Barrasso does not use a judicial nominating commission.