Amy St. Eve and Michael Scudder, the two nominees for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, breezed through their confirmation hearing Wednesday, facing few pointed questions and not being called to defend any of their past actions.
In less than an hour, St. Eve and Scudder were introduced, made opening statements and fielded questions from the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary. Many members of the committee were not at the hearing, including ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California.
St. Eve, a judge for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, and Scudder, a former counsel in the George W. Bush administration and current partner at Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP in Chicago, were nominated by President Donald Trump. If confirmed, they will replace two recently retired judges from the Chicago appellate court, Ann Claire Williams and Richard Posner, respectively.
Both Illinois Democratic Senators, Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, introduced the nominees. They described St. Eve as a judge who is effective, thoughtful and respectful of everyone who comes into her court. They also praised Scudder’s extensive pro bono work, saying it demonstrated his commitment to the legal profession and to his community.
Sens. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, asked about precedent and its application in court decisions. Acknowledging that precedent is not always, clear, St. Eve and Scudder said it does provide a guide or roadmap for making decisions in cases with the same or similar fact scenarios.
In response to questions from Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, St. Eve and Scudder offered much the same view regarding statutes. They said they would look to the plain meaning of the law and turn to legislative history only if the provision contained any ambiguity. Also, they maintained they would follow the law and, as Scudder said, let the “chips fall where they fall” even if the outcome made them personally uneasy.
“My job is not to make law,” St. Eve said. “My job is to apply the law. I have to apply the law as Congress made it.”
Answering an inquiry from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, St. Eve noted sometimes cases come before the courts that present a new issue for which there is no precedent. She pointed to a case she presided over in 2006, United States v. Salah, 03-cr-978 (N.D. Ill.) that was one of the first terrorism trials in the Northern Illinois District Court. To determine how to handle matters related to the Classified Information Procedures Act, St. Eve told the senator she looked to analogous statues.
St. Eve and Scudder also outlined what qualities they considered more admirable in a judge. Again, in response to Blumenthal, St. Eve said as a district court judge, she tried to keep an open mind and maintain control of her courtroom through civility. Scudder said good judges approach cases with an open mind, let every lawyer make his or her arguments and remain humble.
The nominees dodged a question from Hirono about how the Trump Administration is choosing candidates for the federal bench. The Senator said 70 percent of the nominees had been picked by either the Federalist Society or the Heritage Foundation, and she asked St. Eve and Scudder what they thought of the outsourcing the selection of judicial nominees.
St. Eve and Scudder declined to answer, saying it would be inappropriate for either of them to comment on the process for choosing federal judges.
In his first question to St. Eve, Durbin asked about the trial she presided over that involved Donald Trump when he was still a real estate developer. Jacqueline Goldberg sued the Trump organization after it changed a purchase agreement she had already signed when she bought two condominiums in the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago. The case, Goldberg v. 401 North Wabash Venture LLC, 09-cv-6455 (N.D.Ill.), ended with a favorable verdict and ruling for the defendant.
Afterward, Durbin said, Trump tweeted he was pleased with the outcome. St. Eve noted one of her court employees had told her that, but she, herself did not see the future President’s message.
“I don’t follow tweets,” she said.