U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)
The Senate Judiciary Committee has renewed its push to confirm a slate of federal judicial nominees, but it’s still unclear how much political resistance they will get from Republicans.
So far, only one of President Obama’s judicial nominations has a clear path to confirmation — U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins, to a key Washington federal appeals court.
Wilkins’ nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was held over during the holiday break, giving senators a chance to take action now without first having to repeat earlier procedural steps.
The Senate on Jan. 9 voted, 55-38, to advance Wilkins’ nomination. Wilkins, a former Venable partner, is expected to be approved on a final confirmation vote on Jan. 13.
The White House re-nominated 54 judicial picks last week. Those nominations will start anew at the Judiciary Committee level.
Each nomination represents a significant amount of work by the nominee, the White House, the U.S. Department of Justice and Senate staff, committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said.
The nominees won’t have to redo questionnaires or their confirmation hearings. But Republicans, stripped of their ability to block judicial nominees on the Senate floor last year, could try to continue to delay or block nominees at the committee level — as they did in December.
On Jan. 9, Republicans used a procedural tactic to delay committee votes on 29 judicial nominees who were on the agenda. The group included two Munger, Tolles & Olson litigation partners nominated for seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit: John Owens in Los Angeles and Michelle Friedland in San Francisco. — Todd Ruger
CIVIL RIGHTS NOMINEE PRAISED, QUESTIONED
Debo Adegbile breezed through his Jan. 8 confirmation ­hearing for his nomination to run the Civil Rights Division at the U.S. Department of Justice. But Senate Republicans expressed concern about how he might run the key post.
Adegbile, a former top lawyer at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, testified that civil rights enforcement has improved employment options and increased access to education. “We can do more to protect civil rights. We must do more to protect civil rights, and the [Civil Rights] Division stands ready to protect civil rights of all Americans,” Adegbile said. Several top lawyers support his nomination, including Paul Clement of Bancroft and Seth Waxman of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr.
Republicans challenged Adegbile on his views about voter ID laws and immigration. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said the Fraternal Order of Police has expressed “extreme disappointment, displeasure and vehement opposition” to Adegbile’s nomination. — Todd Ruger
CORDRAY DOES ‘DAILY SHOW’
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau head Richard Cordray is used to being in the hot seat — he’s faced congressional oversight panels; he was even a five-time “Jeopardy” champion in 1987. Last week, he braved a new forum: “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Steadfastly earnest, Cordray left the jokes to Stewart and stuck to his message of helping consumers get fair treatment from financial services providers.
Stewart began by asking about his confirmation — Cordray was nominated in July 2011 and confirmed two years later. “Did that send you the message that ‘This is going to be great!’ ” Stewart asked, following up with, “ So, now you’re dealing with these idiots.” Cordray just laughed. Cordray was far more forthcoming describing the agency’s efforts to crack down on credit card issuers and mortgage lenders, and promised stiffer penalties against fraudsters. “You’re like Eliot Ness,” Stewart said, invoking the legendary law enforcer who led the “Untouchables.” “I see it in you. I see the fire. I see you with a baseball bat walking around the halls.” — Jenna Greene
DOJ WANTS NSA CASE ON HOLD
The U.S. Department of Justice has asked a federal trial judge in Washington to freeze action in a pair of suits that challenge government surveillance programs.
DOJ lawyers are appealing U.S. District Judge Richard Leon’s ruling in December that the National Security Agency phone data collection program is likely unconstitutional. Further litigation, James Gilligan of the Civil Division wrote in papers filed on Jan. 8 in the trial court, “could well risk or require disclosure of highly sensitive information about the intelligence sources and methods involved.”
A temporary stay of the litigation would block the challenger, Larry Klayman, from prying into the scope of NSA surveillance. The government said it will oppose Klayman’s effort “to compel disclosure of such extraordinarily sensitive information.”
Three Justice Department lawyers who litigate national security issues — H. Thomas Byron, Douglas Letter and Henry Whitaker — filed their appearance notice in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit last week. The government said the appeals court would expedite its review of the case. — Mike Scarcella
Ante Gotovina, a retired Croatian military official acquitted of war crimes charges in 2012, is suing the U.S. Department of Treasury to lift economic sanctions in place against him for more than a decade. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia convicted Gotovina of war crimes in connection with a military operation in Croatia in 1995. In 2012, the Appeals Chamber of the tribunal reversed his conviction and set him free.
In a lawsuit filed in Washington federal court on Jan. 7, Gotovina’s lawyers said the Office of Foreign Assets Control no longer had legal justification to keep him on a list of individuals subject to economic sanctions and had failed to respond to repeated requests for removal.
Gotovina’s lead attorney is Stephen Diaz Gavin, a partner at Patton Boggs. The firm represented the Republic of Croatia (not Gotovina) during the appellate proceedings before the tribunal. “Even following his release from prison following his acquittal,” they said, “Gotovina is consequently unable to make a livelihood for himself as he still cannot reach his assets or the international banking system.” — Zoe Tillman
Two senators introduced legislation last week to make settlements with federal enforcement ­agencies more transparent. Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said the Truth in Settlements Act would require greater public disclosure about agreements made with federal agencies and greater accountability over their actual value.
Federal agencies often tout the big-dollar amounts obtained from offenders, the senators said, but in some cases tax deductions and other “­credits” reduce the settlement’s true value. The U.S. Department of Justice, for instance, has faced criticism for the $13 billion settlement with JPMorgan Chase & Co. — the largest settlement ever with a single private company — over the bank’s role in the financial crisis. JPMorgan’s intent to write off a large chunk of the deal prompted complaints from Americans For Tax Fairness.
“Taxpayers deserve to know the settlement details corporations arrange with the government, and the best place for Congress to start is with policies that enhance transparency,” Coburn said in a written statement. — Todd Ruger
CIA SUED OVER MANDELA DOCS
Shortly after former South African president and anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela died on Dec. 5, a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests for records ­concerning Mandela and the anti-apartheid movement. Ryan Shapiro is now taking the Central Intelligence Agency to court, claiming in a Jan. 8 lawsuit that the CIA failed to respond to his request for speedy processing. Other agencies replied in some fashion to the FOIA requests, according to Shapiro’s lawyer, Jeffrey Light, a solo practitioner in Washington. The National Security Agency refused to confirm or deny the existence of records — known as a “Glomar response.” The FBI granted expedited processing and the Defense Intelligence Agency denied expedited processing but had yet to respond to the substance of his request. Shapiro wants information on any role the U.S. government played in Mandela’s 1962 arrest and in responding to the anti-apartheid movement. Shapiro is also interested in any records on Mandela’s inclusion on the U.S. terror watch list until 2008. — Zoe Tillman
LABOR’S NO. 2
Chris Lu, a former aide to President Barack Obama and Sidley Austin associate, is the ­president’s nominee for the No. 2 post at the U.S. Department of Labor. Obama intends to nominate Lu to replace Deputy Secretary of Labor Seth Harris, who is ­leaving to be a distinguished scholar at the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Harris has served as the department’s second in command since May 2009, and was the agency’s acting head last year between the ­resignation of Secretary Hilda Solis in January 2013 and the swearing in of Secretary Thomas Perez in July. Lu, a Sidley lawyer in the early 1990s, is currently a senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. — Andrew Ramonas