President Donald Trump late Wednesday nominated Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner Colm F. Connolly and Maryellen Noreika, a partner with Morris, Nichols, Arsht & Tunnell, to serve as federal judges on Delaware’s district court.
As Delaware Law Weekly reported in September, the White House’s selection of the two high-profile Wilmington attorneys was the product of a deal struck with the state’s two Democratic senators, as the shorthanded U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware faced a growing backlog of cases spurred by a surge in patent filings.
Connolly, a Republican and former U.S. attorney, currently heads Morgan Lewis’ Wilmington office, where he practices commercial and intellectual property litigation. Noreika, a Democrat, is a member of Morris Nichols’ intellectual property litigation group with deep experience litigating patent cases involving pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, medical devices and consumer products.
Neither Noreika nor Connolly responded to calls Thursday seeking comment on their nominations.
Sens. Chris Coons and Tom Carper forwarded the names of both attorneys to the White House after interviewing six candidates for two open judgeships on the court. According to sources familiar with the process, the White House had agreed to nominate one Republican and one Democrat with the backing of Coons and Carper.
Sources said background checks were completed in early fall, but the official nominations lagged until the U.S. Senate could pass a sweeping tax reform bill, seen as one of the major legislative initiatives during the first year of the Trump administration. The announcement came as a part of the administration’s ninth wave of judicial announcements around 5 p.m. on Wednesday, just hours after the tax bill received final approval.
Carper and Coons touted the selections in a joint statement Wednesday, saying that Noreika and Connolly’s knowledge of intellectual property law and understanding of the court would be an asset on the bench.
“Colm Connolly and Maryellen Noreika are seasoned attorneys, with impressive trial skills, deep experience in federal practice, and profound respect for the law,” said Coons, who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am confident that they will both be capable jurists, and I look forward to their confirmation hearings.”
“Now that the White House has put forth their nominees, I hope we can swiftly move through the Senate confirmation process so that Delaware’s courts are running at full strength once again,” Carper, the state’s senior senator, said in a statement.
In interviews, Delaware attorneys have given Noreika and Connolly high marks for their experience and said they expect both to join Delaware’s four-member federal bench soon after being confirmed.
Congress is expected to recess on Friday until after the New Year holiday, but Senate hearings could start as early as next month. The American Bar Association, which weighs the qualifications of nominees for federal judgeships, had not published its assessments of Noreika and Connolly by Thursday afternoon.
If confirmed, the pair would round out a court that has been operating with two vacancies since U.S. District Judges Sue L. Robinson and Gregory M. Sleet took senior status earlier this year. Robinson has since retired, but Sleet has continued to manage his own docket.
The district court has also faced a steep rise in patent filings since the U.S. Supreme Court’s May ruling in TC Heartland v. Kraft Foods Group Brands limited venue-shopping in patent litigation. U.S. District Chief Judge Leonard P. Stark of the District of Delaware earlier this year enlisted a roster of visiting judges to help absorb the rising caseload until the court could get back to full strength.
Stark’s chambers did not respond Thursday to a request for comment.