Gregory G. Katsas (screenshot via YouTube)
Earlier this week, I spoke to the Yale Federalist Society about judicial nominations under President Donald Trump (and I’ll be addressing the Penn Federalist Society on the same topic next week). My core thesis: regardless of his administration’s other troubles, President Trump is doing a great job on judicial nominees — and his success might be due to, rather in spite of, his shortcomings as a person and politician.
Today President Trump announced his seventh wave of judicial nominations, 16 nominees in total — three circuit-court nominees and 13 district-court nominees. For the full slate of nominees, as well as information on their backgrounds, flip to the full press release on the next page.
For now, I’ll focus on the three nominees to the circuit or appellate courts:
- Ryan Wesley Bounds – U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
- Elizabeth L. “Lisa” Branch – U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
- Gregory G. Katsas – U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit
If these names sound familiar to you, it’s because all three have been previously identified in these pages as possible or even likely judicial nominees.
I mentioned Ryan Bounds back in April as a possible — and superb — nominee for the Oregon-based Ninth Circuit seat. I praised his “glittering and well-rounded résumé,” featuring “trial and appellate work, civil and criminal work, and government and private practice.” I noted his “great combination of D.C. ties, from his White House and DOJ days, and roots in Oregon, where he has spent most of his legal career and where his family has lived for generations.”
Bounds currently serves as an assistant U.S. attorney in Oregon, where he prosecutes environmental crimes — which should help him win support from his home state’s two Democratic senators. Also helpful: the support he enjoys from members of the state criminal defense bar, who note his reputation for “fairness, diligence, and legal acumen”; his willingness to hear out, and concede when appropriate, arguments advanced by the defense; and his unquestioned integrity, including a commitment to seeking just results in cases. (His current boss, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams, also has warm words for Bounds — but that’s less interesting than praise from the criminal defense bar.)
Bounds graduated from Stanford for college and Yale for law school (where we were classmates, as I’ve mentioned before). He previously served in the administration of President George W. Bush, working on domestic policy issues at the White House and serving as a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy.
Fun fact: if confirmed, Ryan Bounds would take the seat occupied by his former boss (and mine): Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain, a leading light of the Ninth Circuit. And because Judge O’Scannlain continues to hear cases (and call out mischief) as a senior judge, it’s quite possible that the two could end up on a panel together.
(It’s not uncommon for a clerk to serve alongside her former judge on the same appeals court — here’s a partial list of such pairings — but it’s less common for a clerk to take the exact same seat as his former boss. But it does happen; the most famous example of this is Chief Justice John G. Roberts replacing the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.)
I identified Lisa Branch back in July as a great choice for the open Georgia seat on the Eleventh Circuit. A graduate of Davidson College and Emory Law School, Judge Branch has served on the Georgia Court of Appeals since 2012. Prior to taking the bench, Judge Branch was a partner at Smith, Gambrell & Russell in Atlanta. Like Ryan Bounds, she too served in the second Bush administration (in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and the Department of Homeland Security).
Finally, last but definitely not least — it’s the freaking D.C. Circuit! — back in July, I described Gregory Katsas, current Deputy White House Counsel, as the leading candidate to sit on the nation’s second most powerful and prestigious court. Katsas has an impeccable résumé: Princeton for college; Harvard for law school; a Supreme Court clerkship (for Justice Clarence Thomas, natch); a partnership at Jones Day, where he specialized in appellate and Supreme Court practice; and wide-ranging government practice, including service as Acting Associate Attorney General of the DOJ’s Civil Division.
But Greg Katsas is more than (pretty amazing) credentials on a web page. The conservative legal world overflows right now with personal praise from people who know him. Leonard Leo — executive vice president of the Federalist Society and “White House judicial selection guru,” in the words of Kevin Daley of the Daily Caller — describes Katsas as “among the most honest, fair, humble and intelligent people I have ever met.” Shannen Coffin, a former colleague of Katsas at the DOJ, praises his temperament and his work ethic (noting that Katsas “was there when I got to work and at his desk when I headed home”). And Carrie Severino of the Judicial Crisis Network declares that beneath his “quiet, unassuming” demeanor lies “a brilliant advocate and fierce defender of constitutional principles.”
Will these three nominees get confirmed? Given their excellent credentials and sterling professional reputations, I’m optimistic. We live in polarized times — but if home-state Democratic senators can reach across the aisle to return blue slips on nominees like Justice Joan Larsen and Professor Amy Coney Barrett, all hope is not lost.
P.S. But see the disappointing refusal of Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) to return his blue slip on Justice David Stras, a highly esteemed member of the Minnesota Supreme Court and recipient of the American Bar Association’s highest rating, “Well Qualified” (despite the ABA’s liberal bent on such things). By withholding his blue slip on a highly popular, eminently qualified nominee like Justice Stras, Senator Franken might just have blown up blue slips (which might not be a bad thing).
(Flip to the next page for the complete White House press release, which lists all 16 nominees, including the 13 district-court picks.)
Trump Continues To Remake The Federal Judiciary [Daily Caller]More Excellent Judicial Nominees Announced Today [Bench Memos / National Review]Trump Nominates Greg Katsas to the D.C. Circuit [National Review]President Donald J. Trump Announces Seventh Wave of Judicial Candidates [The White House]
David Lat is the founder and managing editor of Above the Law and the author of Supreme Ambitions: A Novel. He previously worked as a federal prosecutor in Newark, New Jersey; a litigation associate at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz; and a law clerk to Judge Diarmuid F. O’Scannlain of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. You can connect with David on Twitter (@DavidLat), LinkedIn, and Facebook, and you can reach him by email at email@example.com.