Todd Ruger

Contentious N.C. Judicial Nominee Advances to Senate Floor
Eastern District of North Carolina seat has been open for 12 years

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a controversial nominee to fill the longest vacancy in the federal court system as well as a top Justice Department official.

The committee voted 11-9 along party lines to advance Thomas Farr to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The spot has been open for 12 years and has long been caught up in the politics of the state and U.S. Senate. Since judicial nominees can’t be filibustered, Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Farr’s lifetime appointment without help from Republicans.

Democrats Drop Congeniality as They Fire Away at Sessions
‘Give me a break,’ attorney general implores at one point

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took an unusual path to the witness table before Wednesday’s Justice Department oversight hearing. He looped behind the dais to smile and shake the hands of his former Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues and pat them on the shoulder.

But the next four hours made it clear that congeniality has faded for the former Alabama Republican senator. Democrats lectured him on immigration policy, questioned his truthfulness in previous testimony about Russia and criticized his implementation of the Trump administration’s conservative policies.

Senators Ready to Confront Sessions at Oversight Hearing
Attorney General likely to face contentious questions about his leadership

Attorney General Jeff Sessions returns to face his former Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues Wednesday in an oversight hearing likely to include contentious questions about Justice Department actions since he took on the role eight months ago.

“The attorney general will earn his money that day,” said committee member John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.

Senators Debate When Nominee’s Religion Is Fair Game
Democrats’ questioning of appeals court pick stirs discussion

A Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a controversial appeals court pick Thursday prompted a discussion about when it is appropriate to ask questions about a nominee’s religion — and even a suggestion to hold a public hearing on the issue.

The topic arose because of questions Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois asked last month during a confirmation hearing for Amy Barrett, a University of Notre Dame law professor and a Roman Catholic who is nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Court Appears Divided in High-Stakes Gerrymandering Case
Apparent swing vote Anthony Kennedy offers few clues in arguments

The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided during oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could determine the fate of partisan gerrymandering across the nation, as one attorney suggested a wrong move by the court could cause the country “to lose faith in democracy, big time.”

Paul Smith, who represents the Wisconsin voters who challenged a Republican-drawn legislative map in the case now before the court, urged the justices to step in and allow federal courts to stop partisan gerrymandering.

Trump Looms Large Over New Supreme Court Term
Nation’s highest court set to hear gay rights, redistricting and immigration cases

For a Supreme Court that guards against being perceived as political, the new term starting Monday is poised to show just how President Donald Trump and Republicans have shaped what will happen in the courtroom.

The court avoided high-profile contentious cases and otherwise laid low during partisan fights over the seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans went to historic lengths to block President Barack Obama’s pick for Scalia’s seat for months until the presidential election.

Civil Rights, Racial Disputes Fuel Divide Over Judicial Nominee
North Carolina senators defend Thomas Farr

President Donald Trump’s pick for a federal judgeship in North Carolina has drawn the opposition of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups in part because of past work defending the state’s congressional redistricting plans and voter ID law, which courts have struck down as unfair to minorities.

The vacancy in the Eastern District of North Carolina has fallen victim to the Tar Heel State’s contentious politics and the Senate’s confirmation process — making it now the oldest judicial vacancy in the country at 11 years and 9 months.

Senators Could Lose ‘Blue Slip’ Input on Circuit Judges
President would have less reason to consult with lawmakers

A looming showdown over a Senate tradition could strip senators of a de facto veto power over nominees to federal appeals courts — and give President Donald Trump less reason to consult with senators about which judges should be appointed.

The Judiciary Committee’s “blue slip” process has required senators to return a blue slip of paper before the committee schedules hearings and markups of nominees for federal judgeships from their home states. No slip, no hearing. That has made it essential for the White House to get a senator’s buy-in on a nomination.

Donald Trump Jr. Talks to Senate Investigators
But details beyond opening statement remain private for now

Donald Trump Jr. spent about five hours Thursday answering questions from Senate Judiciary Committee staff about a meeting he set up between his father’s presidential campaign and a Russian lawyer, but the details beyond his opening statement remain private for now.

Several senators attended the closed-door, voluntary interview with the president’s son, part of the committee’s probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Only Senate staffers asked questions, however, and the committee will have to vote at a later time on whether to make the transcript public.

In the Courthouse: Cases Affecting Congress Work Way Through System

Several high-profile cases affecting Congress are making their way through the federal court system, including how congressional districts are drawn in Texas and Maryland, as well as a criminal trial affecting a sitting U.S. senator. 

On Friday, Texas asked the Supreme Court to stop a court-ordered redrawing of the state’s congressional districts ahead of the 2018 election, or risk “chaos” in the state’s election timeline for a second time this decade.

Transgender Military Ban Lawsuit Could Turn on Trump Tweet
Suit claims White House turned Trump’s Twitter posts into official guidance for DOD

Five transgender service members filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump’s apparent decision to reinstate a ban on transgender people serving in the military — a case that could turn on whether official policy can be announced on Twitter.

Lawyers for GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders and the National Center for Lesbian Rights represent plaintiffs who are in the Air Force, the Coast Guard and the Army and served from three years to two decades, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. The plaintiffs are not named in the lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Congress Wants More Immigration Judges, and Fast
Appropriators want Justice Department to pick up the pace

Congress wants to fund more judges to tackle the growing backlog of deportation and other immigration cases, even as lawmakers are hammering the Justice Department for not hiring them fast enough.

Both House and Senate Commerce-Justice-Science spending bills would fund an additional 65 immigration judges and support staff in fiscal 2018, on top of 10 new judges provided for in the fiscal 2017 omnibus spending bill. But appropriators in both chambers included language in bill reports questioning the Justice Department’s efforts to fill those positions.

Christopher Wray Faces Challenges as New FBI Director
Senate confirms new director on 92-5 vote, showing bipartisan support

Christopher Wray will lead the FBI as it wrestles with challenges such as cybersecurity and domestic terrorist investigations, as well as the political fallout from the bureau’s role in the 2016 presidential election and its ongoing investigation into President Donald Trump’s campaign.

The Senate’s bipartisan support for Wray, 50, is rooted in his reputation as well as experience with national security issues and major investigations as a federal prosecutor, a Justice Department official after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and as a lawyer in private practice.

Appeals Court Strikes Down D.C. Concealed Weapons Law
Decision conflicts with other circuit court rulings

A federal appeals court struck down a District of Columbia law Tuesday that required a “good reason” to carry a concealed firearm, ruling that it essentially bans the Second Amendment right for most D.C. residents.

The decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit conflicts with rulings from other appeals courts on concealed-carry rights, potentially ripening the issue for a Supreme Court that for years has stayed on the sidelines of gun control laws.

John Bush Nomination Exposes Partisan Divide
Kentucky jurist’s anonymous blog posts brings up questions of temperament

The nomination of John Bush to be a federal appellate court judge underscores how swiftly Senate Republicans can help President Donald Trump reshape the nation’s courts in a conservative direction.

Bush, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, cleared a procedural hurdle in the Senate on Wednesday on a 51-48 vote. Democrats now have an opportunity to air their concerns on the floor ahead of a final confirmation vote later this week.

Trump Controls Key Funding Move in Health Care Fight
President could stop cost-sharing subsidy payments to insurers

If President Donald Trump wants to “let Obamacare fail” as he says, there’s a ready way for him to give it a push.

So far, the Trump administration and House Republicans have agreed to keep frozen a case in a Washington appeals court over appropriations as part of a push to repeal and replace the 2010 health care law. The case is left over from when House Republicans sued the Obama administration in 2014.

Judge Narrows Trump's Travel Ban Enforcement

The Trump administration can’t stop grandparents and other relatives of someone in the United States from entering the country under its enforcement of the revised travel ban, a federal judge in Hawaii ruled late Thursday.

The ruling is a legal setback for President Donald Trump’s temporary ban against travelers from six majority-Muslim countries, and could prompt the government to take the issue back to the Supreme Court during the justices’ summer recess.

Wray Pledges Impartiality as FBI Director
‘I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts‘

Updated 2:09 p.m. | Amid a deepening federal investigation into the Trump campaign’s contact with Russian operatives, Christopher Wray assured senators Wednesday he would remain independent as FBI director and adhere to the rule of law “no matter the test.”

“If I am given the honor of leading this agency, I will never allow the FBI’s work to be driven by anything other than the facts, the law, and the impartial pursuit of justice,” Wray told the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearing. “Period. Full stop.”

Senators to Grill FBI Pick Wray on Independence, Terrorism
‘I say this without hesitation — Chris simply does not make mistakes’

Christopher Wray won’t be able to escape questions about President Donald Trump at his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to be the next FBI director, but he’ll draw on his reputation and experience to make his case.

Wray’s nomination comes at a tumultuous time for the bureau and the presidency. Trump abruptly fired FBI director James B. Comey in May amid the bureau’s probe into connections between the president’s campaign and Russian operatives during the 2016 election.

Trump’s FBI Pick Once Praised Comey’s Integrity
Confirmation hearing for Christopher Wray set for July 12

President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next FBI director previously voiced support for two high-ranking Justice Department officials that Trump has since fired: FBI Director James B. Comey and acting Attorney General Sally Yates.

Christopher Wray, whose confirmation hearing is set for July 12, was one of 10 former DOJ officials who submitted a letter to the Senate in 2013 that supported Comey’s nomination to lead the FBI, citing his judgment in the face of difficult decisions as well as his “integrity and independence.”