Thursday, March 23, 2017
Wednesday, March 22, 2017
By Fred Lucas
President Donald Trump has tapped a federal district judge from his list of potential Supreme Court picks to be his first nominee to a federal appellate court—putting Trump slightly behind President Barack Obama, but ahead of President George W. Bush in shaping the judiciary.
Thapar, son of Indian-American immigrants and a former federal prosecutor, now serves as a federal judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky. Bush appointed him in 2008.
The announcement for a nomination comes as Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is going through his confirmation hearings in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Appeals court judges can be nearly as important as Supreme Court judges since the high court is limited in the number of cases it accepts.
There are 19 appellate court vacancies across the United States that Trump could fill, and 96 on federal district courts, according to Elizabeth Slattery, a legal fellow at The Heritage Foundation.
There are also two vacancies on the U.S. Court of International Trade and six on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. There are a total of 677 authorized district judgeships and 179 total court of appeals judgeships.
“This is a great sign that President Trump takes lower courts seriously,” Slattery told The Daily Signal. “The last administration did not make lower court judges a priority, and that ended up being good for conservatives because it has left Trump with a lot of opportunities. There was a lot of thought that the president would wait until the Gorsuch nomination reached its conclusion.”
Given his position on the Trump campaign’s Supreme Court list of 21 names, this could be grooming Thapar for the Supreme Court, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice, a conservative legal group, and a senior legal fellow for FreedomWorks.
“Everyone on that list was ranked somewhere from good to great as far as being a constitutionalist,” Levey told The Daily Signal. “Certainly if he is qualified to be on the Supreme Court, he is qualified to be on an appeals court. He would be the first Indian-American on the Supreme Court. There is no better way to give him credentials.”
Obama’s first appeals court nomination was on March 17, 2009, naming David Hamilton to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Obama had 49 appeals court judges confirmed to the bench during his two terms. Obama made his first district court nomination on June 25, 2009, naming Jeffrey Viken to the U.S. District of South Dakota. A total of 270 Obama district court nominees were confirmed.
Bush’s first appeals court nomination did not happen until May 9, 2001, when he named Roger Gregory to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That same month, Bush nominated Richard F. Cebull to serve as the judge for the U.S. District of Montana. Bush named a total of 61 appeals court judges that the Senate confirmed and filled a total of 263 vacancies on district courts.
President Bill Clinton outdid both Bush and Obama, naming 62 appeals court judges and 306 district judges.
As for Thapar, before serving on the bench, he was the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Kentucky. He was previously an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Ohio and in the District of Columbia.
Thapar began his legal career in private practice. He clerked for Judge S. Arthur Spiegel on the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio and then with Judge Nathaniel R. Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, to which Trump has selected Thapar to serve on. Thapar received his bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 1991 and his Juris Doctor from the University of California, Berkeley.