James Sweeney II, nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, practically breezed through his nomination hearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Wednesday.
Sweeney testified in front of the Judiciary Committee alongside Howard Nielson, Jr., nominee for U.S. District Judge for the district of Utah, and Barry W. Ashe, nominee for U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Louisiana.
As part of his opening statement, Sweeney, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP, thanked family along with his colleagues for their support and encouragement of his nomination by President Donald Trump. He particularly recognized former Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar and retired 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge John Tinder, who were at the committee hearing.
“Senators, I have and will continue to work hard every day to make all these supporters proud,” Sweeney told the committee. “Indeed, if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed, I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and fairly, impartially and diligently perform my duties as a judge in the Southern District of Indiana and to do so with patience, dignity, respect and courtesy to all regardless of person, position, or prayer for relief and with faithfulness to the law.”
In a hearing sparsely attended by committee members, Nielson got the most attention. Only two committee members — Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and Sen. Christopher Coons, D-Delaware — posed any questions for Sweeney, and none of the committee members directed any inquiries to Ashe.
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-New Carolina noted the disparity. Before he quizzed Nielson, he told Sweeney and Ashe they were going to get as much “playing time as (New Orleans Saints’ quarterback) Drew Brees’ backup.”
Nielson’s nomination has drawn criticism from outside groups. He was asked by Democrats and Republicans on the committee about his work at the U.S. Department of Justice on the so-called torture memos and his defense of California’s Proposition 8, which prohibited same-sex couples from marrying.
The questioned aimed at Sweeney were less pointed.
Klobuchar asked him how his service in the military could shape his perspective as a federal judge. Sweeney, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, served in the Marine Corps from 1983 to 1992 and in the Marine Reserve from 1992 until 2013.
Sweeney detailed his work as a Marine, including his time as a commander. He noted that he often had to assess the facts and judge credibility before making decisions, and that he had taken an oath to uphold the Constitution.
Coon inquired about the Patent and Trademark Appeals Board, and how the post-grant review proceeding seems to have created inefficiencies and duplication. He asked if Sweeney thought improved coordination between PTAB and the district courts could lead to better efficiency, and what he would do as judge to improve efficiency if his court and PTAB were reviewing the same patent.
Sweeney pointed out those issues are pending before the Supreme Court of the United States so he could not comment. He did add, “As a general proposition, however, I’d say that cooperation is always good.”
Even if they did not call upon Sweeney, some Judicial Committee members did thank him for his service in the Marines. He provided a dash of humor as he acknowledged his continued strong ties to the military in his opening statement.
“There’s a rather large contingent of Marines that would’ve liked to have been here,” Sweeney said, “but out of respect for the committee and concern for the building, I didn’t tell them about it.”
Sweeney’s nomination is supported by both Indiana Senators, Republican Todd Young and Democrat Joe Donnelly.
Speaking before the committee, Young and Donnelly lauded Sweeney’s public service and work as an attorney. They expressed confidence he would be an asset to the federal bench. In addition, they said they hoped Sweeney would be swiftly confirmed because the Southern Indiana District Court desperately needs the current vacancy filled. The court is under a judicial emergency with about 915 cases per judgeship, the second-highest caseload among district courts in the United States.
“Throughout his legal career, Jim’s exhibited the qualities we should all desire in those receiving a lifetime appointment to the federal bench. He’s extremely well-regarded by his colleagues and has chosen to focus only on the most complex litigation,” Young said. “… He possesses substantial experience in the courtroom, the boardroom, the battlefield and other complex and high-stakes settings have prepared him well for the challenge ahead.”
“His breadth of experience will allow him to quickly adapt to the role of a judge and the range of cases confronted by our federal courts,” Donnelly said. “… Jim’s strong commitment to public service and his desire to work hard to ensure the administration of justice in the Southern District of Indiana will serve the public well.”