Northern Indiana District Court awaiting re-nomination process

With the start of the 116th Congress, Indiana’s two remaining federal judicial nominees have stalled and the vacancies in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana continue.

Attorneys Holly Brady and Damon Leichty had been nominated in 2018 to fill the pair of open seats in the Northern Indiana District Court. Since neither received a confirmation vote by the full U.S. Senate, their nominations have been returned to the White House. However, Indiana’s senior senator expressed confidence they will come back to Capitol Hill.

“I expect Holly Brady and Damon Leichty to be re-nominated by the President…,” Sen. Todd Young said in a statement. “They should be processed quickly through the (Senate) Judiciary Committee without the need for another hearing.”

The Northern Indiana District Court has had at least one open seat for nearly three years since Judge Robert Miller, Jr., took senior status Jan. 11, 2016. Another vacancy was created when Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen transitioned to senior status Sept. 29, 2017.

Although the northern Indiana federal court does not have the caseload of the Southern Indiana District, it is still an active district. During the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, 2018, the filings totaled 2,602, which translated to a weighted filing of 464 per judge. The northern Indiana court has five judgeships.  

Northern Indiana Chief Judge Theresa Lazar Springmann did not have any comment on the vacancies in her court.

Brady, partner at Haller & Colvin P.C. in Fort Wayne, was tapped to replace Van Bokkelen. She appeared before the Judiciary Committee in June 2018 and was approved by a party-line vote, but the Senate never brought her nomination forward for a floor vote.

Her confirmation is being opposed by reproductive rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. Among its concerns, the nonprofit maintains that her characterization of Indiana’s controversial 2015 Religious Freedom and Restoration Act as “a lot of hoopla,” minimized the “very real fears of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or personal reproductive-health decisions.”

Leichty, partner at Barnes & Thornburg LLP in South Bend, was nominated to fill the seat vacated by Miller. Even though Leichty sailed through the committee hearing, his nomination did not advance to a vote after former Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., blocked all the judicial candidates because the Senate would not protect the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller into the Trump administration. 

Young faulted the Democratic leadership for Brady and Leichty not being confirmed.

“It’s unfortunate that (Minority Leader) Sen. (Chuck) Schumer delayed floor consideration of these bipartisan and extremely qualified candidates last Congress,” the Indiana Republican said. “I will continue to push for confirmation on the Senate floor to ensure the Northern District of Indiana federal courts can be fully operational.”

Carl Tobias, professor at the University of Richmond School of Law, anticipates the judicial nominees who did not get through the entire process will be re-nominated by the White House and confirmed quickly. Neither Brady nor Leichty will have to appear at another judiciary committee hearing, but Brady will have to again survive another committee vote.   

With the midterm elections bolstering Republican control of the Senate to 53 seats, Democrats will have a difficult time stopping the nominees from becoming federal judges. But, Tobias said, the minority has the ability to slow the confirmation process by extending the debates on the nominations, which, even under cloture, would allow up to 30 hours on each nominee.

Charles Geyh, professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, agreed the GOP majority in the Senate can quickly confirm the judicial candidates who are re-nominated. However, he cautioned that next year’s general election could impact the process.

“The only wild card is whether the Senate review his nominees receive becomes a bit more rigorous, now that the GOP Senators up for reelection in 2020 include more vulnerable folks with a strategic need to stand up to the president,” Geyh wrote in an email.

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