Leichty tackles constitutional questions at Senate Judiciary hearing

Appearing before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Tuesday, Damon Leichty said he was a proud Hoosier who learned much from the federal judge he clerked for and has been nominated to replace – Northern Indiana District Court Senior Judge Robert Miller, Jr.

Leichty, a partner at Barnes and Thornburg LLP in South Bend, is the last federal judicial nominee to a vacancy in an Indiana court to appear before the judiciary committee. He was part of a panel of four district court nominees who answered questions from committee chair Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and minority member Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont.

In his opening remarks, Leichty thanked President Donald Trump for the honor of the nomination and Sen. Todd Young, Republican, and outgoing Sen. Joe Donnelly, Democrat, “for their kind words and tremendous support throughout this process. I am a proud Hoosier, and having the support of my two home-state senators, particularly in bipartisan spirit, means a great deal to me.”

Leichty also acknowledged Miller, for whom he clerk from 2001 to 2003. “A special thank you,” Leichty said, “goes to Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr., who has taught me much about what it means to be a federal judge.”

With two vacancies recently filled in the Southern Indiana District Court, currently the Northern Indiana District Court has the only empty seats in the Hoosier federal jurisdiction. Leichty has been tapped to fill the seat vacated when Miller took senior status in January 2016, and Holly Brady, partner at Haller & Colvin PC in Fort Wayne, has been nominated to fill the vacancy by Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen’s decision to take senior status in September 2017.

If the committee gives Leichty the thumbs-up, his nomination will then go before the full U.S. Senate for confirmation. Brady has already slipped through the committee on a party line vote and is still awaiting a vote by the Senate.

The American Bar Association has rated Brady as “qualified” but has not yet rated Leichty.

Tuesday’s committee hearing for the four district court nominees was not contentious, although Leahy pressed the nominees on constitutional questions.

In response to a question from Grassley, Leichty said impartiality was the key quality for a federal judge. Members of the judiciary must have the ability to hear arguments from all parties, research and understand the law, then apply the law in an impartial matter.

He added that federal judges need to have integrity, which means not only protecting the independence of the judiciary, but also ensuring the procedures and processes employed in the courtroom are done in the right way.

“I think any nominee or federal judge needs to have both a blend of intellect and industry,” Leichty said. “There’s going to be a heavy docket for all of us if we’re confirmed to the bench and that’s going to require a great deal of hard work and industry to ensure opinions and decisions are made in a timely basis and in the right way.

Leahy focused on the Constitution. He quizzed the nominees on whether the Equal Protection Clause extends to women, if the First Amendment allows the use of a religious litmus test for entry into the United States and whether presidents are permitted to receive emoluments from foreign governments.

Leichty answered the Equal Protection Clause does extend to women and U.S. government officials cannot accept emoluments unless, maybe, if Congress permits it. He also noted the Constitution is resistive of religious litmus tests but, pointing out the matter is still before the federal judiciary, he said it would be inappropriate for him to comment any further on that issue.

Responding to another Leahy question which asked how the federal courts should respond if the president or member of the executive branch refuses to comply with a federal court order, Leichty said in 20 years of practicing in federal courts he had never encountered such a situation.

“That is such an issue in that it potentially pitches two branches of government against each other that it requires a great deal of research, a great deal of briefing, great deal of thought, very studious thought at that before an answer is given,” Leichty said. “I would need to do that in order to response to your good question.”

Leichty also agreed with Leahy that the Constitution speaks for everyone and is the country’s lodestar. 

“That is our keystone,” Leichty said of the Constitution. “All branches of government – the president, the Congress, the federal judiciary – are obligated to follow it.”

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