Today, Judge Amul R. Thapar, a U.S. District Court Judge from Kentucky, had his Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing. Judge Thapar is the first circuit court nominee by the Trump Administration.
He earned the ABA's highest rating of unanimously Well Qualified to be a judge on the 6th Circuit, which at one time was called the "Gold Standard" in judicial nominations by Democratic Senator Pat Leahy (VT) and echoed by Democratic Minority Leader Senator Schumer (NY).
Judge Thapar faced a line of questioning reminiscent of the recent hearing for Justice Gorsuch, albeit slightly more subdued. Politicosummarized the hearing as follows:
Asked by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) to address the denigration of federal judges, Thapar evaded any direct comment on Trump's rhetoric, but he said it was unlikely to have much impact because federal judges are thick-skinned and have lifelong tenure. . . ."I am a proud Article III judge. We've been criticized from the beginning of this great country," Thapar said. "What I will say about me and my colleagues is it doesn't matter to us." . . .
Thapar also faced pointed questions from Democrats about his affiliation with the conservative Federalist Society. Trump last year had included both Gorsuch and Thapar, 47, on a list of judges he said he would choose from when making nominations to the Supreme Court, and the possibility Thapar could someday be elevated to the high court was a subtext of Wednesday's hearing. Thapar was one of four individuals reportedly interviewed by Trump for the Supreme Court vacancy.
Under questioning by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Thapar said Wednesday he was surprised to learn from a law clerk after a court session last fall that he'd been named to Trump's list. "I have no idea how I got on the list. I wasn't notified ahead of time," Thapar said. . . . Whitehouse and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted that the list was prepared by the Federalist Society and by the conservative Heritage Foundation, but Thapar insisted he'd made no pledge of ideological fealty to those groups. "I'm my own judge, and I hope my track record speaks to that," he said. He called the Federalists "an open-debate society." Durbin appeared skeptical of that explanation.
Also, entered into the record, by Chairman Senator Grassley, was a written statement signed by a diverse group of 23 lawyers who all clerked under Judge Thapar:
Each of us spent a year working closely with Judge Thapar in his chambers, and we can each attest that he is an exemplary judge, a devoted mentor, and a great person. First, and most importantly, Judge Thapar is an exceptional jurist. There is only one rule in his chambers: get the law right. Judge Thapar works diligently with his law clerks to ensure that every decision he makes is in accordance with what the law requires. Judge Thapar gives equal attention and a fair hearing to every litigant in every case that comes before him. From individual social security 2 disability claimants, to incarcerated inmates, to large multinational corporations, every party gets a fair hearing from Judge Thapar. . . .
We firmly believe there is no one better than Judge Thapar to fill the open seat on the Sixth Circuit. If confirmed, we are confident that Judge Thapar will approach his job on the appellate court the same way he has approached his job on the district court—with dedication to the law, with a prodigious work ethic, and with respect for all parties who appear before him. We hope the Senate will confirm Judge Thapar quickly.
According to The Washington Times, there are some 19 circuit court vacancies and more than 100 district court vacancies in need of nominees, perhaps giving President Trump the opportunity to reshape federal courts. However, it looks like this line of questioning will likely be repeated against most, if not all, of President Trump's judicial nominees.