Ong still has path to Southern District seat

November 9, 2016

With Republicans set to control the White House, U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, the fate of Indiana’s judicial nominees to the federal bench is even more uncertain.

Winfield Ong and Myra Selby were nominated in January by President Barack Obama to fill vacancies in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, respectively.

Ong, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, received support from both Indiana Sens. Joe Donnelly, Democrat, and Dan Coats, Republican, and gained unanimous approval from the Senate Judiciary Committee in June, but he is still waiting for a vote by the full Senate. Selby, partner at Ice Miler LLP and former justice on the Indiana Supreme Court, has only gotten support from Donnelly and has not had a committee hearing.

Glenn Sugameli, attorney and founder of the nonprofit judicial watchdog group, Judging the Environment, said Ong still could get a confirmation vote before the end of the year but the prospects for Selby are now much dimmer.

Selby’s nomination has been hindered by Coats’ refusal to sign his blue slip in support. Instead the Senator has called for the formation of a nominating commission to recommend potential candidates because the vacancy on the 7th Circuit has not been deemed an emergency.

The vacancy in the Southern Indiana District, created when Judge Sarah Evans Barker took senior status in June 2014, has been designated a judicial emergency because of the high caseload. In applauding Ong’s nomination, Coats has cited the emergency as the key reason for his support.

“If Coats really wants Ong, I think he certainly could get it done,” Sugameli said, “and I think he should get it done because of the strong need to fill the judicial emergency.”

Possibly helping Ong is a push by other Republican senators from other states to get their nominees confirmed. Traditionally, the Senate has voted on judicial candidates in the order in which they are approved by the judiciary committee. With nominees for district court vacancies in Republican strongholds of Idaho and Texas being sent to the upper chamber’s floor after Ong, the pressure for confirmation of these nominees could cause the Senate to hold a vote for the Hoosier.

The prospects for the nominee for the Wisconsin vacancy on the 7th Circuit, Donald Schott, is also very unclear. Although the Quarles & Brady partner has the support of the home state Sens. Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson, who won re-election last night, he did not get unanimous support from the Judiciary Committee. After his hearing in June, the committee voted 13-7 to send his nomination to the Senate.


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