Politics & Government

Senate committee considers filling a judicial vacancy in Idaho

Judge David Nye testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Idaho's Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, also attended the hearing to introduce Nye and testify on his behalf. Nye was nominated by President Barack Obama in April.
Judge David Nye testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, June 21, 2016. Idaho's Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, also attended the hearing to introduce Nye and testify on his behalf. Nye was nominated by President Barack Obama in April. McClatchy

Idaho took a big step toward getting a second federal judge Tuesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee signaled strong backing for Judge David Nye, a consensus pick of President Barack Obama and the state’s senators, Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.

While the committee did not vote, Nye, of Pocatello, faced no resistance and appears headed for an easy confirmation, though it’s uncertain how soon that might happen.

“Mr. Nye, you represent something I’ve never seen before: a person that can get Crapo, Risch and Obama on the same sheet of music,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who presided over the hearing.

Mr. Nye, you represent something I’ve never seen before: a person that can get Crapo, Risch and Obama on the same sheet of music.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.

Nye, whom Obama nominated for the job in April, appeared before the committee with three judicial nominees from New York, South Carolina and North Dakota.

But with the panel still feuding over a vacant Supreme Court spot, Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the committee’s top Democrat, said there was one “glaring omission” among the group: Merrick Garland, the president’s pick to replace the late Antonin Scalia on the high court.

“It has been 97 days since Chief Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States, yet Republicans refuse to allow him a hearing before this committee,” Leahy said in a statement.

97 The number of days that have passed since President Barack Obama nominated Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court

Crapo and Risch back their party leaders in wanting to wait to fill the Supreme Court vacancy until Obama leaves office, but both urged the Judiciary Committee to move quickly to confirm Nye as a way to help ease Idaho’s judicial emergency.

“It’s been a while since Idaho’s senators have appeared before this committee, as Idaho is one of only three states having just two authorized district court judges,” Crapo said.

It’s been a while since Idaho’s senators have appeared before this committee, as Idaho is one of only three states having just two authorized district court judges.

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho

Even if Nye is approved, Crapo said, the state needs a third federal judge to handle its growing caseload. The Idaho senators have introduced a bill that would give the state another judgeship, but Crapo acknowledged the difficulty they face.

“Unfortunately, the last time Congress authorized any new district judgeships for any state was in 2002,” Crapo said.

Risch said Nye had emerged as the top choice among dozens of candidates, and he commended the White House for “the give-and-take that was necessary” to reach an agreement.

But he said the state remained in “a unique situation,” operating with only one full-time federal judge since last July, when Edward Lodge reduced his caseload and went on senior status. Lodge announced his plans to leave the bench in 2014. Risch said Idaho had been forced to rely on out-of-state judges to help out.

“I want to underscore the necessity of moving this along,” Risch told the committee. “I know things around here don’t move quickly.”

I want to underscore the necessity of moving this along. I know things around here don’t move quickly.

Sen. Jim Risch, R-Idaho

Nye said little, introducing his family, thanking them and his colleagues, and responding to a single question by Graham regarding his view on the rule of law.

“I believe that it is the rule of law that makes our civilization, our country, so great, a willingness to follow the law as written by the legislature and then the precedential value that comes from the case law of the courts,” Nye said.

Nye has served as a district judge for Idaho’s 6th Judicial District Court since 2007, presiding over civil and criminal cases.

From 1987 to 2007, Nye worked at the Pocatello law firm of Merrill & Merrill, Chartered, where he specialized in medical malpractice and insurance law. He joined the law firm as an associate in 1987 and became a partner in 1989.

Graham told Nye and the other three nominees that they “seem well-prepared for the job,” and he pledged to do all he could to move their nominations through the Senate quickly.

“This is a very big deal – to be able to sit on a federal bench and judge your fellow citizens is a high honor and great responsibility,” Graham said. He added: “You’re about to embark on a new phase of your life.”

No dates have been set for votes on the nominations, either by the Judiciary Committee or the full Senate.

Leahy complained that the Senate has been moving slowly this year, with 26 nominees “languishing on the Senate floor” and awaiting a final vote.

After Tuesday’s hearing, Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who’s a close follower of judicial nominations, predicted that Nye will prevail with a “strong vote” in the Judiciary Committee in July. But getting a vote by the full Senate, he said, “is the real issue.”

“I am cautiously optimistic the pace will increase,” Tobias said.

Paul Gordon, senior legislative counsel for People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the GOP-controlled Senate had approved only 11 circuit and district court nominees last year, the lowest number since 1960. This year, he said, only seven have been approved, for a total of 18 in the current Congress.

“It seems likely that the 114th Congress will have the fewest confirmation votes of any two-year Congress in over 50 years,” Gordon said.

Rob Hotakainen: 202-383-0009, @HotakainenRob

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