The Eastern District of Pennsylvania federal bench will soon be welcoming four new judges and bidding farewell to one judge who will be elevated to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals if the Senate confirms a package of judicial nominations announced late Thursday.
Sources told The Legal the five nominees all received phone calls from the White House Thursday, but it was unclear at press time whether the official announcement of the nominations would be posted on Thursday or today.
U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond was nominated to fill one of two vacancies on the 3rd Circuit and, if confirmed, would leave the Eastern District with four vacancies.
According to several sources, the four nominees are: Philadelphia Common Pleas President Judge C. Darnell Jones II; Bucks County Common Pleas Judge Mitchell S. Goldberg; Reed Smith attorney Carolyn P. Short; and criminal defense attorney Joel H. Slomsky.
Sources said the package of nominees has a good chance of winning confirmation by the Senate because it was the result of negotiations between Pennsylvania Sens. Arlen Specter and Robert Casey.
Casey had opposed the White House's first choice for the 3rd Circuit seat -- Eastern District Judge Gene E.K. Pratter -- and the deal was struck after the White House agreed to withdraw Pratter's nomination and replace her with Diamond.
The five nominees now face a daunting election year calendar. Any confirmation hearings would be scheduled only after the nominees are vetted by the American Bar Association, a process that could take several weeks.
As the election approaches, the nominees will be crossing their fingers that two key Democratic senators take the necessary steps to move the process forward. First, Sen. Patrick Leahy, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, must schedule the hearings and bring the nominations to a committee vote; and then Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must agree to bring the nominations to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.
The withdrawal of Pratter's nomination was the result of two factors. Pratter was met with significant opposition from interest groups, and her nomination was ultimately doomed when Casey refused to sign off on it.
Ordinarily, such opposition, even from a senator who has the power to block it, has rarely led to the withdrawal of a nomination by the White House. But sources said that when Specter and Casey proposed a full package of nominees, with Diamond replacing Pratter, the White House was quick to sign on.
Pratter was nominated in November 2007 to fill the 3rd Circuit vacancy that opened in October 2006 when Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen took senior status.
At the time, there were no vacancies on the Eastern District, but Short was nominated to replace Pratter contingent on Pratter's confirmation. As a result, when Pratter's nomination became mired in controversy, Short's nomination also appeared to be in jeopardy.
Specter had been lobbying for Short to get the 3rd Circuit, sources said, but the White House rejected Short because of her strong ties to Democrats.
Short is a Republican, but her husband, Joseph Torsella, is a prominent Democrat with strong ties to Gov. Edward G. Rendell. Torsella ran unsuccessfully in the 2004 Democratic primary for the congressional seat now held by Rep. Allyson Schwartz. He now serves as president and CEO of the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.
When the White House rejected Short for the 3rd Circuit, sources said, Specter agreed to a package deal in which Pratter would get the 3rd Circuit seat and Short would be nominated to replace Pratter.
Ordinarily, the nomination of a replacement for a district judge who is elevated to the appellate court comes after Senate confirmation. But in Short's case, President Bush invoked a rarely used procedure to send her nomination to the Senate to replace Pratter "upon elevation."
Short graduated from the University of Notre Dame and earned her law degree in 1980 from Notre Dame Law School. Before joining Reed Smith in 1989, she worked as a prosecutor in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, including several years as a homicide prosecutor.
From January 2005 until February 2006, Short served as general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee while Specter was serving as chairman, and she worked side by side with Specter on the confirmation hearings for U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel Alito.
The new package of nominees was the result of extensive negotiations between Specter and Casey, sources said.
Several sources said Jones was Casey's first pick for the Eastern District but that the deal was cinched only when Specter agreed to replace Pratter with Diamond for the 3rd Circuit seat.
"This whole deal marks the first time that Casey has really flexed his muscle on judicial nominations. He just saw Pratter as an arch conservative and pressed for a more moderate nominee to the 3rd Circuit," one lawyer said.