Delaware Gov. John Carney has nominated Morgan T. Zurn, currently a master in Chancery, and Kathaleen S. McCormick, a corporate litigator with Young, Conaway, Stargatt & Taylor, to serve as vice chancellors on the Delaware Court of Chancery.
The selections, announced Thursday afternoon, would fill two newly created openings on the nation’s pre-eminent business court and add two more women to a bench that has historically been dominated by men. If confirmed, Zurn and McCormick would join Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves to form a court with an unprecedented three women. Four men would be serving alongside them on the expanded court, venue for corporate litigation for most of the Fortune 500.
Both Zurn and McCormick will need to be confirmed by the state Senate during a special session of the legislature on Oct. 3.
Zurn, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, is a former state prosecutor, who joined the Chancery Court as a master in 2016, mostly handling disputes involving guardianships, trust and estates. If confirmed, she would be the second judge on the current court to be promoted from master to vice chancellor.
McCormick, a partner in Young Conaway’s corporate litigation and counseling group, has focused her practice on advising clients in corporate, commercial and alternative entity law. A graduate of the University of Notre Dame Law School, she has also handled public interest matters statewide through the Community Legal Aid Society Inc.
“Katie McCormick is an experienced Chancery lawyer, with knowledge both deep and broad that will make her an immediate asset to the court,” Carney said in a statement. “Katie impressed me with her sharp mind, strong work ethic and commitment to public service. She will be an outstanding jurist and representative for the court and state.”
Of Zurn, Carney said: “She has earned an outstanding reputation as an advocate and judicial officer, exhibiting intelligence, diligence, efficiency and integrity. Master Zurn has met the high standards of our Court of Chancery and I am pleased that she will be able to expand her contribution to the court and state.”
The nominations, Carney’s first for the Chancery Court, come at a time of significant change for the composition and structure of the 226-year old Delaware institution.
Carney’s predecessor, Gov. Jack Markell, oversaw a historic reshuffling of the state judiciary from 2009 to 2016. During his tenure, Markell appointed all five of the Chancery Court’s judges, including Montgomery-Reeves, who became only the second woman and first African-American to ever serve on the court.
In June, lawmakers approved Carney’s request to expand the court to seven judges, amid a push by Delaware Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. to bolster Delaware’s legal service industry—considered to be one of the top economic drivers in the state.
If confirmed, Carney’s selections would bring a new gender balance to the bench, with three of the court’s seven seats held by women.
Zurn and McCormick are expected to work out of the Leonard L. Williams Justice Center in Wilmington, a sign that the Chancery Court may be moving away from the principle of geographical balance that has guided nominations in the past.
Though not required by Delaware law, governors have been careful to ensure that each of the state’s three counties is represented on the Chancery Court. Vice Chancellors Joseph R. Slights III and Sam Glasscock III represent Kent and Sussex counties, respectively; however, most of the court’s work is conducted in Wilmington, the state’s biggest city, where five judges are now expected to reside.
Legal observers in recent years have questioned the rationale for maintaining party balance, and corporate law professor Lawrence Hamermesh said it may be time to retire the tradition altogether.
“If that’s a ship that’s sailing off into the sunset, I don’t have any complaints about the ride, but I’m not sorry to see it go,” said Hamermesh, who teaches at Widener University Delaware Law School.
The nominations also come as another tenet of judicial appointments—the state’s party balance mandate—has come under legal attack.
Unlike the geographical requirement, Delaware’s constitution mandates that no more than a “bare majority” of the court be held by members of one of the two major political parties. A federal judge last year struck the provision as unconstitutional, but has allowed Carney to continue nominating judges in the meantime.
Carney has appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which is expected to hear arguments on Tuesday.
McCormick was part of a team of attorneys from Young Conaway representing Carney in that case.