Karen Gren Scholer of Carter Scholer.
Karen Gren Scholer of Carter Scholer. ()

In a surprising mix of potential U.S. District judges, President Donald Trump today announced his first five judicial nominees in Texas including two people who were formerly nominated by former President Barack Obama and two lawyers who’ve worked for the First Liberty Legal Institute, a conservative religious freedom organization.

The list of Texans Trump nominated to the bench include:

• Walter David Counts III, a Midland U.S. Magistrate Judge, for a U.S. District Court bench in the Western District of Texas. Counts was also nominated to the bench by Obama late in his presidency, and formerly served as a federal prosecutor and as a Travis County assistant district attorney.

• Matthew J. Kacsmaryk, deputy general counsel to First Liberty Legal Institute, for a U.S. District Court bench in the Northern District of Texas. Kacsmaryk’s practice focused on religious liberty litigation in federal courts and amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. He also worked as a federal prosecutor and as an associate in the Dallas office of Baker Botts.

• Jeff Mateer, first assistant to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, for a U.S. District Court bench in the Eastern District of Texas. Before joining the attorney general’s office, Mateer was general counsel and executive vice president of First Liberty Legal Institute, where he handled trial and appellate matters.

• Fernando Rodriguez Jr., field office director in the Dominican Republic for International Justice Mission, for a U.S. District Court bench in the Southern District of Texas. Rodriguez leads efforts to combat sex trafficking of children. He previously served as a partner in the Dallas office of Baker Botts.

• Karen Gren Scholer, principal co-managing partner in Dallas’ Carter Scholer, for a U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Texas. Along with Counts, Scholer was also nominated to the bench by Obama late in his presidency and would be Texas’ first Asian-American federal judge if confirmed. She previously served for eight years as a state district judge in Dallas.

All of the candidates were vetted by the Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee, a bipartisan group of attorneys appointed by Texas U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz to review judicial candidates for the senators before recommending them to the White House.

“I am proud to support the nominations of these principled men and women to the federal bench,” Cruz said. “Each of them is an accomplished attorney with a proven record of excellence, professionalism, and fidelity to the U.S. Constitution. The last few years have demonstrated that our country desperately needs a new generation of jurists who are willing and able to defend the rule of law, and I believe that these five Texas nominees bring us one step closer to that goal. I commend the President for these nominations and urge my colleagues to give these eminently qualified nominees a speedy confirmation.”

“Working with Senator Cruz, I was proud to recommend these qualified individuals to fill critical vacancies on our courts,” Cornyn said. “I’m confident these nominees will serve Texans well on the bench by faithfully applying the law, and I hope the Senate will move quickly to confirm them.”

The five nominations are seen as crucial for Texas, which currently has the most judicial vacancies of any state in the nation at 13 — including two seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

The nominations are a relief to Chris Kratovil, managing partner of the Dallas office of Dykema, who points out that there are four U.S. District Court vacancies in the Northern District of Texas alone.

“I think given the shortage of judges in Texas generally, and in the Northern District of Texas specifically, the administration gets credit for re-nominating two candidates who should be quickly confirmed. They are quality candidates and they should not be controversial,” Kratovil said of Counts and Scholer.

Kratovil, who is also a member of the Dallas chapter of the Federalist Society, said Trump’s first list of judicial appointments in Texas “has the look and feel of a compromise slate.”

“Two Obama holdover nominees and some other nominee who would embrace the label of movement conservatives,” Kratovil said. “Given that the GOP controls the White House and both Texas senate seats, it’s a compromise between Republicans.”

“It’s easy to envision a President Jeb Bush appointing Scholer and Counts,” Kratovil explained. “It’s not as easy to envision the Liberty Legal nominees from a hypothetical third Bush president.