Seven Trump picks in line for Texas federal judge posts
Five judicial nominees for U.S. District Court in Texas have their confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington in September 2016. James Wesley Hendrix was confirmed by the Senate for a federal judge role on Tuesday.
A failed nomination to district court under Obama is now a renomination to district court under Trump.
After graduating from law school, Hendrix began his legal career as a law clerk to Judge Patrick Higginbotham of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, in which capacity he served from 2003–2004.
The U.S. Senate on Tuesday approved James Wesley Hendrix as a federal judge for the Northern District of Texas. Hendrix had been serving as assistant U.S. attorney and chief of the appellate division for the Northern District.
- Medellín v. Texas, 552 U.S. 491 (2008) (successfully defended Texas and won a landmark decision that the World Court cannot bind the U.S. justice system, and the President of the United States cannot order state courts to obey the World Court).
- Texas Bar Foundation, Fellow.
- Member of Federalist Society.
Both Hendrix and Jordan are members of the Federalist Society, a conservative legal organization.
Hendrix, Jordan and five other other Texas judges are among 19 whose nominations are being sped along by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has said he’s hoping to fit in as many as he can ahead of the August recess starting Thursday.
President Donald Trump, with the help of McConnell, has made a big push during his presidency to fill judicial roles, especially federal judges with lifetime appointments.
So far, more than 130 nominees have been confirmed, a legacy that will continue to sway public affairs regardless of whether Trump wins reelection in 2020.
Civil rights groups are decrying the president’s choice of several of the nominees, including that of Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Vincent Brown, who once suggested publicly that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision allowing gay marriage could be grounds for Texas to secede again. Brown was nominated to the Southern District of Texas in Houston.
That opposition is unlikely to slow the Republican-controlled Senate, however, as lawmakers continue confirming Trump’s nominees, hand-picked for their conservatism and their youth.
The other Texas judges up for approval
Mark T. Pittman, a judge with the Texas Second Court of Appeals, nominated to the Northern District of Texas.
Fifth District Court of Appeals Justice Ada E. Brown, nominated to the Northern District of Texas.
Justice Brown is a Master of the Bench in the William “Mac” Taylor American Inn of Court.
David J. Hacker, special counsel for litigation for the Texas attorney general’s office, right, and Brantley Starr, deputy first attorney general, left, take part in a committee meeting on religious freedom laws at the Texas Capitol, in Austin, Texas.
Lawyers who espouse a conservative Christian agenda have been growing in influence since the Trump administration took office.
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn praised the nominees in statements on the Senate floor
He noted that Ada Brown would be the first African-American woman in the district to which she’s nominated and Pulliam would be the first African-American in his district.
“They’ve all proudly served the Lone Star State in a variety of capacities, and I’m again impressed by the outstanding nominees that the president has recruited to fill these important judicial vacancies,” Cornyn said. “Each of these nominees has shown their legal acumen, clear judgment, and unwavering commitment to the rule of law, and I look forward to voting for their nominations later this week.”
The Judicial Conference, which administers the federal court system, has declared Texas’ vacancies as “judicial emergencies,” meaning judges’ caseloads are too high.
If the seven nominees are confirmed, Texas — which had 13 empty benches just two years ago — would have its fewest vacancies since at least 2003, said David Prichard, a San Antonio attorney who chairs the bipartisan Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee that reviews potential judges for the state’s two U.S. senators.
“This is really remarkable, and this is a function of the work that was done in the last year and a half,” Prichard said. “All of these are kind of now coming to fruition.”
That would leave just two empty benches in Houston and Corpus Christi. Charles Eskridge, a Houston-based attorney, has been tapped for the Houston spot. The search for a nominee for the other opening, which is much newer, has yet to ramp up, Prichard said.
“We’re looking for academic excellence, people with high integrity, smart,” Prichard said about his panel.
He said the panel typically tries not to be political in its vetting, but leans toward “people that fit the judicial philosophy of the senators and the White House — and that depends who’s in the White House.”
The Trump White House likes younger nominees, as well, he said.
Civil rights groups, which have pushed back on many of Trump’s judicial nominees, have opposed the Texas picks — especially Jeffrey Brown and Brantley Starr.
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella organization of national civil rights groups, slammed Brown as an “ideological extremist whose record both on and off the bench demonstrates a hostility to LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive health care, and immigrant rights.”
They pointed to comments Brown made at a Jefferson County Republican Party gathering in 2015 about the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on marriage equality.
“What can Texas do about these rulings? Short of what some states did in 1861, there’s not much that can be done,” Brown said, according to news reports from the time. “A constitutional amendment would solve this, sure, but I believe that’s an uphill battle. I’m not optimistic for this to turn around any time soon.”
Civil rights groups, meanwhile, pointed to Starr’s work in the state attorney general’s office defending what they say are voter suppression efforts and fighting Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
A judge’s personal views shouldn’t factor into any assessment of his or her qualifications as they are pledging to put those views aside in order to serve, said Thomas Jipping, deputy director of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Jipping added that all of the nominees were highly rated by the American Bar Association.
“For these liberal political groups, your politics is a qualification for judicial office, which is just a very dangerous approach to take,” Jipping said. “I don’t care what your politics are. I care whether you’re going to be impartial.”