By Margo Kirchner
Even if he serves just one term, President Donald Trump may influence the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit more than any of his four immediate predecessors. Trump has a remarkable opportunity to fill from four to nine of the court’s 11 seats.
The Seventh Circuit sits in Chicago and decides appeals from federal trial courts in Wisconsin, Illinois, and Indiana. The court has 11 full-time, active judge positions plus several “senior judges” who may take a reduced caseload in semi-retirement. The judges generally sit in three-judge panels.
The President picks nominees for appointment to the court; they take the bench if confirmed by the Senate.
Federal judges may take senior status or retire under the Rule of 80---at age 65 if they have served at least 15 years on the bench, age 66 with 14 years, and so on. When a judge chooses senior status or full retirement (or, in unfortunate circumstances, dies), the President gets to name a successor.
With the surprise retirement of Circuit Judge Richard Posner a couple weeks ago, four spots on the Seventh Circuit are available for Trump to fill. Circuit Judge Ann Claire Williams took senior status in June 2017. Circuit Judge John Daniel Tinder took senior status in early 2015. And the seat of Circuit Judge Terence T. Evans has famously been vacant since January 2010.
When Trump took office in January, he acquired over 100 judicial vacancies, exceeding the vacancies inherited by Presidents Barack Obama (54) and George W. Bush (81). The Republican Senate’s delay in moving nominees forward during the latter years of the Obama presidency accounts for many of the vacancies, and the situation gives Trump an opportunity for long-lasting impact.
Trump is moving quickly to fill the vacancies and recently picked up his pace. On Sept. 11, Trump proposed his tenth slate of nominees for federal courts around the country. In total, Trump has nominated 53 individuals for judgeships, and 34 of those nominations came since mid-July. The Senate already confirmed six of the nominees.
Trump’s nominations to date cover the Evans and Tinder spots. The two remaining Seventh Circuit spots, allocated to Illinois, may require negotiation with that state’s two Democratic senators, but Trump has three years left in his term to get nominees for those positions through the Senate. If he fills all four seats, some three-member panels of the Seventh Circuit may consist completely of Trump appointees.
And these four seats are not the end of Trump’s possible reach. Five of the seven active Seventh Circuit judges are eligible for senior status or full retirement. Only Circuit Judges David Hamilton and Diane Sykes are younger than 65, and all of the judges over age 65 meet the service requirement and can retire.
Will the Seventh Circuit become "Trump's Tribunal"?
Chief Judge Diane Wood and Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook are still under 70. But Circuit Judge Michael Kanne is 78, Circuit Judge Ilana Diamond Rovner is 79, and Circuit Judge Joel Flaum is 80. The average age of the Seventh Circuit active judges is 70 years old (though Senior Judge William Bauer makes that seem young---he continues hearing appeals at age 91). In contrast, the average age of the judges of the Eighth Circuit, which covers appeals in Minnesota and six other states to Wisconsin’s west, is 64.
If even two of the five eligible judges take senior status, retire, or die in the next two years and Trump has time to get a nominee through the Senate by the end of 2020, Trump appointees could constitute a majority of the court even if Trump serves only one term. The likelihood of a Trump-packed court greatly increases if Trump wins a second term---will Judge Flaum still want to serve as an active judge at age 85?
In comparison, during their eight years in office President Obama filled one Seventh Circuit seat (Judge Hamilton), President George W. Bush filled two seats (Judges Tinder and Sykes), and President William Clinton filled three (Judges Wood, Williams, and Evans). President George H.W. Bush appointed one Seventh Circuit judge (Judge Rovner) during his four-year term. The last president with an opportunity like Trump’s was Ronald Reagan; he appointed eight judges to the court during his eight years in office.
By Margo Kirchner
Let’s call U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s approval of attorney Michael Brennan’s nomination to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals what it is: hypocrisy. Action that Johnson two years ago condemned as repugnant to the best interest of the people of Wisconsin he now considers acceptable because it helps his own party.
Johnson, using his own words, broke his contract with Baldwin, blew up bipartisanship, and chose his party over us.
Together, Johnson, a Republican, and Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin established the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission to advise the senators about (among other positions) a judicial appointment for our state’s open seat on the federal appeals court. The Commission seeks out qualified candidates, interviews them, and recommends four to six finalists. The Commission consists of six members; each senator appoints three. The rules of the Commission prohibit recommending any judicial candidate who does not receive five affirmative votes.
In a May 22, 2015 press release still on his website, Johnson said the makeup of the Commission and the five-vote requirement help “ensure that the senators would nominate qualified judges rather than candidates who were on either extreme.” In another statement, Johnson described the requirements as creating a “fair process.”
This spring, the Commission accepted applications for the Seventh Circuit position, but didn’t recommend anyone because no candidate garnered five votes. Nevertheless, President Trump, presumably in consultation with Johnson, nominated Brennan for the seat, ignoring the results of the Commission. Brennan received four, not five, votes.
Johnson said soon after Brennan’s nomination that the White House “made a great decision” as Brennan “is eminently qualified and was the only candidate who received bipartisan support from the judicial nominating commission.
Two years ago two candidates, attorney Donald Schott and Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Richard Sankovitz, received the required five Commission votes for the same seat, but the Commission could not recommend them because it could not recommend the required minimum of four candidates. Baldwin notified the White House of all eight individuals the Commission interviewed. (President Obama eventually nominated Schott, though Schott was not confirmed.)
Here’s the hypocrisy. Johnson publicly decried Baldwin’s move, tweeting on May 22, 2015, that the “[p]rocess to find judges worked until @SenatorBaldwin blew up our bipartisanship” and stating in his press release that it was “unfortunate that Senator Baldwin chose partisanship and politics over what is in the best interest of the people of Wisconsin.”
Johnson told a reporter that Baldwin broke her contract with other senators when she forwarded all eight names to Obama.
Is a tit-for-tat justified---because Baldwin bypassed the Commission’s results two years ago Johnson can do the same? The Senate is not elementary school and consideration of lifetime judicial appointments should not involve retaliation against a fellow senator. Moreover, Johnson and Trump went significantly beyond what Baldwin and Obama did two years ago. Then, two candidates earned the required five votes, and Obama nominated one of those two. Brennan did not get the required five votes.
Johnson’s reneging on the rules of the Commission came just six months after he signed its amended charter, which maintained the five-vote requirement.
Amid talk of the Republican Senate eliminating the “blue slip” practice that allows a senator from a federal court nominee’s home state to block confirmation, Johnson appears the hypocrite again. Johnson used his blue-slip power back in 2011 to stop consideration of Obama’s first nominee for the Seventh Circuit seat.
Johnson’s endorsement of Brennan’s nomination suggests that Johnson will do whatever is politically expedient, notwithstanding his prior agreement to a “fair process.” Whether Brennan should be confirmed by the Senate is a separate matter. Wisconsinites of all political stances should be concerned with the process by which Brennan’s nomination came about---when those in the party in power without hesitation change the rules to get what they want.
Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Rebecca F. Dallet is widely rumored to be readying a run for the State Supreme Court seat now held by Michael J. Gableman.
Dallet, however, isn't quite ready to commit. "I've been approached by several people asking me to run and I'm giving it serious consideration," she said Wednesday.
If Dallet runs and the very conservative Gableman seeks re-election, there will be a primary in the Supreme Court race next year because Madison attorney Tim Burns already has announced that he will also seek the seat.
The primary election will be Feb. 20; the general election will be April 3.
Dallet was elected to the Branch 40 bench in 2008, beating attorney and police officer Jeffrey Norman. She was re-elected without opposition in 2014.
She also has served as a Milwaukee County court commissioner, adjunct professor at Marquette University Law School, assistant district attorney, and special assistant U.S. attorney.
As judge, she presided over felony courtrooms for several years and is now assigned to civil court.
Dallet received her law degree from Case Western Reserve University Law School in 1994.
Now that the 2017 spring elections are over, it's time to start thinking about 2018! Listed below are the seats and incumbents up for election next spring, according to the Wisconsin Elections Commission.
Wisconsin needs more good candidates for these posts.
Justice of the Supreme Court – Michael Gableman
Court of Appeals
District I – Timothy G. Dugan
District IV – Joanne F. Kloppenburg
Ashland County – Robert E. Eaton
Brown County, Branch 2 – Tom Walsh
Brown County, Branch 6 – John P. Zaskowski
Buffalo-Pepin Counties – James Judge Duvall
Calumet County – Jeffrey S. Froehlich
Chippewa County, Branch 1 – Steven Gibbs
Clark County – Jon Counsell
Dane County, Branch 8 – Frank D. Remington
Dane County, Branch 11 – Ellen K. Berz
Door County, Branch 1 – D. Todd Ehlers
Eau Claire County, Branch 3 – William M. Gabler, Sr.
Eau Claire County, Branch 4 – Jon M. Theisen
Eau Claire County, Branch 5 – Paul J. Lenz
Jefferson County, Branch 3 – Robert Dehring, Jr.
Kenosha County, Branch 2 – Jason A. Rossell
Manitowoc County, Branch 2 – Gary Bendix
Menominee-Shawano, Branch 2 – William F. Kussel, Jr.
Milwaukee County, Branch 8 – William Sosnay
Milwaukee County, Branch 17 – Carolina Maria Stark
Milwaukee County, Branch 20 – Dennis P. Moroney
Milwaukee County, Branch 23 – Lindsey Grady
Milwaukee County, Branch 28 – Mark A. Sanders
Milwaukee County, Branch 38 – Jeffrey A. Wagner
Milwaukee County, Branch 39 – Jane Carroll
Milwaukee County, Branch 43 – Marshall B.Murray
Oneida County, Branch 2 – Michael H. Bloom
Outagamie County, Branch 4 – Greg Gill, Jr.
Outagamie County, Branch 7 – John A. Des Jardins
Portage County, Branch 1 – Thomas B. Eagon
Portage County, Branch 3 – Thomas T. Flugaur
Racine County, Branch 1 – Wynne P. Laufenberg
Racine County, Branch 5 – Mike Piontek
Racine County, Branch 10 – Timothy D. Boyle
Richland County – Andrew Sharp
Rock County, Branch 7 – Barbara W. McCrory
St. Croix County, Branch 3 – Scott R. Needham
Sauk County, Branch 3 – Guy Reynolds
Walworth County, Branch 1 – Phillip A. Koss
Washington County, Branch 4 – Andrew T. Gonring
Waukesha County, Branch 2 – Jennifer Dorow
Waukesha County, Branch 12 – Kathryn W. Foster
Waupaca County, Branch 3 – Raymond S. Huber
Winnebago County, Branch 1 – Thomas J. Gritton
Winnebago County, Branch 4 – Karen L. Seifert
Wood County, Branch 2 – Nicholas J. Brazeau, Jr
Scott Wales and Kashoua "Kristy" Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert, who is not seeking re-election. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race. This is the final question in the series.
This week's question: Why are you the best choice for the job?
Editor's note: Scott Wales' response to Kashoua "Kristy" Yang is at the bottom of his answer.
Scott Wales and Kashoua "Kristy" Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert, who is not seeking re-election. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
This week's question: Do you think mandatory minimum sentences are appropriate? If not, why not? If so, why and under what circumstances?
Scott Wales and Kashoua "Kristy" Yang are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
This week's question: Do you support the 54 retired judges' proposal to require any circuit court judge to recuse him/herself from cases involving donors and indirect supporters who contribute $1,000 or more to the judge's election effort? (The limit for appeals court and Supreme Court judges would be $2,500 and $10,000, respectively).
Kashoua "Kristy" Yang and Scott Wales are competing for the Branch 47 judicial seat now held by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge John Siefert. This is the only contested Milwaukee County judicial race this year. Wales and Yang agreed to answer a series of questions from WJI to better inform voters about issues in the race.
The answers were edited for length (maximum 400 words).
This week's question: What is your judicial philosophy?
Almost three-quarters of money raised last year by Supreme Court Justice Annette Ziegler's campaign came through donations of $1,000 or more, campaign records show.
Ziegler raised $373,106 last year and had $288,920 on hand at the end of 2016, according to her January finance report.
Ziegler is unopposed in the April 4 election.
Ziegler received 86 donations of $1,000 or more in 2016. Those large donations totaled $267,800, or almost three-quarters of the amount her campaign raised, record show. Twelve donors kicked in $10,000 or more.
Ziegler accepted $1,000 from the Wisconsin Bankers Association PAC, according to the January report. The Association is one of the corporate lobbying groups that signed a letter to Gov. Scott Walker urging him to grant pay raises to Ziegler and other judges in the state.
The charts below show only individual donations of $1,000 or more. Multiple donations totaling $1,000 or more are not included. The Realtors Political Action Committee, the political arm of the Wisconsin Realtors Association, for instance, made three $500 donations to Ziegler's campaign on June 23, for a total of $1,500. Those donations are not shown. The Realtors Association also signed on to the letter asking Walker to give raises to judges.
Auto dealer Michael Darrow's June 15 $1,000 contribution was a conduit contribution, meaning individual donors bundled their contributions.
Big-money donors to Ziegler's uncontested campaign included Daniel McKeithan, executive officer and director of Tamarack Petroleum Co. ($20,000); billionaire Diane Hendricks, chairman of ABC Supply Co. ($10,000); conservative mega-donor Richard Uihlein, CEO of Uline, Inc. ($10,000); businessman John Burke ($10,000); James Schloemer, chairman and CEO of Continental Properties Inc. ($10,000); and fast food restaurant owner Steve Kilian, president of Kilian Management Services ($10,000).
There will indeed be four candidates vying for the Municipal Court judgeship now held by Valarie Hill.
They are Hill, a Municipal Court judge since 2004; William Crowley, a lawyer with Disability Rights Wisconsin; Assistant City Attorney Kail Decker; and Brian Michel, a staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society in Milwaukee. All four candidates filed nomination papers by the 5 p.m. Tuesday deadline.
The general election is April 4. The primary election will be Feb. 21.
Municipal Court judges serve 4-year-terms. Hill is paid $133,289 per year.
You can read more about the candidates here.
Gretchen Schuldt is executive director of the Wisconsin Justice Initiative.
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