The staffs of state attorneys general have become fertile ground for President Donald Trump to pick appeals court judges, as the president has shifted the federal judiciary in a direction more in line with respecting state authority.
“They recruited the best and the brightest to serve their state and now the Trump administration is nominating these lawyers to serve as a federal judge or to a senior Administration position.” @RepublicanAGs says.
At least six circuit court judges nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate have been state solicitors general or deputy attorneys general. Such officials are the litigators on behalf of a state—typically on the front lines of legal fights, while the state’s attorney general is the public and political face.
Call them a farm team.
“Republican state attorneys general have defended the rule of law at every turn,” Scott Will, executive director of the Republican Attorneys General Association, told The Daily Signal. “They recruited the best and the brightest to serve their state, and now the Trump administration is nominating these lawyers to serve as a federal judge or to a senior administration position.”
Confirmed appeals court judges plucked from the top ranks of the offices of state attorneys general are:
- Kyle Duncan, former solicitor general in Louisiana and also former assistant solicitor general in Texas. Trump nominated Duncan in January and the Senate confirmed him in April by a party-line vote of 50-47.
- James Ho, former Texas solicitor general, was nominated to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in September. The Senate confirmed him in December by a vote of 53-43.
- Don Willett, former deputy attorney general and chief legal counsel in Texas, also was nominated in September to the 5th Circuit and confirmed in December by a party-line vote of 50-47.
- Steven Grasz, former chief deputy attorney general in Nebraska, was nominated by Trump in August to serve on the 8th Circuit. The Senate confirmed him in December by a 50-48 party-line vote.
- Allison Eid, former solicitor general in Colorado, was nominated in June 2017 by Trump to fill the vacancy left on the 10th Circuit by newly minted Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. The Senate confirmed her in November by a 56-41 vote.
- Kevin Newsom, former solicitor general in Alabama, was nominated in May 2017 to the 11th Circuit and gained Senate confirmation in August by a 66-31 vote.
“It takes a very sophisticated lawyer [to] work in an attorney general’s office, and there is a deep bench of talent,” said John Malcolm, head of the Institute for Constitutional Government at The Heritage Foundation.
“The Trump administration cares about state sovereignty and federalism, and many of these [nominees] are steeped in state law; some went on to become judges,” Malcolm said. “A solicitor general is litigating the most complex legal questions, and they are usually drawn from the top legal talent in a state.”
Two other circuit court nominees drawn from states cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee last week:
- Britt Grant, former solicitor general in Georgia and currently a state Supreme Court justice, was nominated to the 11th Circuit in April. Her confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee was last week.
- Andy Oldham, former deputy solicitor general in Texas, was tapped in February for the 5th Circuit. The Judiciary Committee last week advanced his nomination with a party-line vote of 11-10.
Trump also tapped current and former staff of state attorneys general, some who went on to become state judges, for lower district court judgeships.
Because the Senate has prioritized circuit court nominees, it hasn’t acted yet on most district court nominees.
Examples of Trump’s nominees to district courts include:
- Corey Maze, special deputy attorney general in Alabama, nominated earlier in May as judge for the Northern District of Alabama.
- T. Kent Wetherell II, former deputy solicitor general in Florida, tapped in April for the Northern District of Florida.
- Andrew Brasher, solicitor general in Alabama, tapped in April for the Middle District of Alabama.
- Jonathan Katchen, former assistant attorney general for oil, gas, and mining in Alaska, nominated in April for the District of Alaska. (Katchen also was a law clerk for Judge Maryanne Trump Barry of the 3rd Circuit in Philadelphia, who is the president’s sister and a liberal.)
- David Morales, previously deputy attorney general for civil litigation in the Texas attorney general’s office and then first assistant attorney general, nominated in April for the Southern District of Texas.
- Allen Winsor, former Florida solicitor general, nominated in April for the Northern District of Florida. He currently is a state judge.
- Patrick Wyrick, former Oklahoma solicitor general, nominated in April for the Western District of Oklahoma.
- Cam Barker, deputy solicitor general in Texas, nominated in January for the Eastern District of Texas.
- Dan Domenico, former Colorado solicitor general, tapped in January for the District of Colorado.