Bench Memos

Idaho Beats California!

Yet another low point of this morning’s Judiciary Committee meeting was the debate over the nomination of Randy Smith of Idaho to the Ninth Circuit.  The sole stated point of opposition to Smith’s nomination was Senator Feinstein’s contention that the seat somehow belongs to—and “represents”—California.


Judges are servants of the law, not representatives of the people of any particular state.  And courts of appeals seats have no inherent connection to any particular state:  Appellate judges from different states in the same circuit take part equally in the cases arising from the district courts across those various states.  So Feinstein’s contention made no sense on the merits.


But, as I explained more fully here, Republican senators are as enamored of their patronage opportunities as Democratic senators, and committee Republicans embraced Feinstein’s premise that a court of appeals seat typically belongs to a particular state.  The only apparent reason that they rejected Feinstein’s contention is that they did not see Smith’s seat as clearly a California seat.  It happens, you see, that the seat, created in 1935, was held for eight years by a judge residing in Oregon, for 29 years by two judges in Washington, for only 14 years by a judge in California, and for the last 19 or so years by a judge in Idaho.  So Feinstein was trying to retake a seat that (in Senate-think) California had stolen from Washington over three decades ago but later lost to Idaho.


Smith was reported out of committee by a 10-8 vote.  Another Ninth Circuit nominee, Milan Smith, and four New Jersey district judge nominees were reported out by voice vote.

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