U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Galveston
U.S. District Judge Gregg Costa of Galveston ()

Late in the afternoon on May 20, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Gregg Costa to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit by a unanimous voice vote.

Costa said he’s grateful for the support he received during the nomination process.

“I’m excited for the opportunity to serve on the circuit. It’ll be a great honor,” Costa said.

That 97-0 official tally also confirmed something else: Costa’s promotion from a U.S. district court bench in Galveston to become President Barack Obama’s first Texan seated on a very conservative appellate court was uncontroversial—even among the two Texas Republican U.S. senators who have made a very public show of opposing most moves made by the White House.

How did this happen?

It helped that Costa, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Texas, made a name for himself by helping send Houston financier R. Allen Stanford to prison for 110 years—a point repeatedly trumpeted during his nomination proceedings.

It also helped that Costa, years earlier, submitted himself for review to the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee (FJEC) set up by Republican Texas U.S. Sen. John Cornyn and then-U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

Costa, a 1999 University of Texas Law School graduate and former law clerk of the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, must have aced that 2011 interview, because both Cornyn and Hutchison supported Costa’s nomination as a trial judge.

Later, Costa again submitted himself to FJEC. The bipartisan committee of lawyers appointed by Cornyn and by Hutchison’s successor, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also recommended Costa’s promotion.

Cornyn appeared at both of Costa’s U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearings to give full-throated endorsements—both of the work of FJEC and its conclusion that Costa was a worthy nominee.

“He represents exactly the kind of well-qualified nominee, consensus nominee, that this Senate should confirm for the federal bench,” Cornyn said during one of the March hearings. [See "Bipartisan Votes Help Fifth Circuit Hopeful Gregg Costa, Patent Reform," Texas Lawyer, March 27, 2014, page 4.]

It also didn’t hurt that Costa schooled the committee on his deep historical knowledge of the Fifth Circuit in an exchange that brought a smile to the face of U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., who chaired his hearing. [See "Judge Gregg Costa's Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Brings Humor and History," Texas Lawyer, March 3, 2014, page 4.]

Costa currently is presiding over a trial in Victoria concerning a commercial dispute over Japanese cattle.

In addition to noting the honor of the move to the Fifth Circuit bench, he said, “It is bittersweet, because I’ll miss the district court dearly, and I’ll miss Galveston dearly as well.”

Costa also notes that he’s looking forward to doing something he couldn’t as the only Article III judge inside Galveston’s federal courthouse.

“The big difference between the trial court and the appellate court is that you discuss your decisions with other judges,” Costa said. “And that’s what I’m looking forward to: discussing cases with other judges.”