CHICAGO – Legal observers have praised President Donald Trump’s two most-recent nominees to the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, singling out their experience and intelligence as well as the White House’s efforts to gain bipartisan support for the nominees.
Trump this month nominated Michael Scudder Jr. and Amy St. Eve of Illinois to fill vacant seats on the Seventh Circuit, which covers federal court districts in Wisconsin, Indiana and Illinois. Scudder, who has handled civil litigation at the Chicago office of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP since 2009, previously served in the White House Counsel’s Office. St. Eve has been a judge in the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago since 2002.
The two nominees are fine choices and highly qualified, according to Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia. It’s also significant that Scudder and St. Eve gained the support of a commission set up by the U.S. Senate, Tobias said, adding that their nominations have the solid backing of Illinois' two senators, Democrats Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth.
Michael Scudder | Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
“I think that if the White House can work with senators from the home state, then the whole process is a lot easier,” Tobias said.
The bipartisan cooperation bodes well for the nominees’ approval, according to Tobias, who closely monitors appointments to the federal bench. But because Scudder and St. Eve will still require a committee hearing and eventually a Senate floor vote, they may not be confirmed until summer or possibly fall, he said.
St. Eve previously served as an associate counsel during the Whitewater Independent Counsel investigation in Little Rock, Ark., and Scudder has solid experience from his previous work in Washington, Tobias said.
“He knows his way around the federal bodies and Congress and that kind of thing,” Tobias said.
A third Trump nominee to the 7th Circuit, Michael Brennan of Wisconsin, survived a congressional committee hearing and vote, but not without attracting some controversy. In Brennan’s case, the White House didn’t work well with Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who withheld her support for Brennan, he said.
If all the nominees gain Senate approval, which Tobias sees as likely, the Seventh Circuit will be more conservative than it has been in the past, he said.
Lena Zwarensteyn, director of strategic engagement at the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy in Washington, also described Scudder and St. Eve as qualified and as having the respect of the legal community.
“They both have extensive legal experience and work in the jurisdiction in which they have been nominated,” Zwarensteyn told the Record.
But the White House does not have a good record of consulting with home-state senators about such nominations, she said.
“That advice and consent has to have some meaning and life,” she said, adding that Brennan also failed to pick up the required number of votes from a commission set up to evaluate the nominee. “The White House feels there are zero incentives for them to consult with senators.”
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director for the Judicial Crisis Network, agreed that Scudder and St. Eve bring experience and intelligence to the bench, and she defended Brennan as a nominee with an excellent legal record.
“A single senator simply doesn’t have a veto over a nominee,” Severino said.
The latest nominees will not lead to dramatic changes on the court, but they will continue to uphold the circuit’s strong reputation nationally, she said.
“I would not predict that the Seventh Circuit is going to have a real shift based on these nominations,” Severino said.
She praised the White House for the way it was working to fill numerous court vacancies.
“President Trump’s appellate nominees have been a truly outstanding selection of the best and brightest young lawyers in America,” Severino said.