Trump Continues to Reshape Ninth Circuit With Two New Picks

The James R. Browning U.S. Courthouse in San Francisco, home of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump announced six new judicial nominees on Friday, including two to seats on the once reliably liberal Ninth Circuit and four to federal courts in California.

One of the nominees to the Ninth Circuit will be familiar to senators, as Trump has now three times chosen Patrick Bumatay for a federal judgeship. Trump first chose Bumatay, a prosecutor in the Southern District of California, for a seat on the Ninth Circuit in 2018, but the Senate never took action on the nomination.

Trump tapped him for a judgeship again earlier this year, this time for a position on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bumatay, who is openly gay, currently leads the appellate and narcotics sections of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California, and worked as counselor to the attorney general in 2018, advising on opioid strategy and other issues.

California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris, both Democrats who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, raised concerns about Bumatay’s lack of judicial experience during his first pass at the Ninth Circuit position.

In a statement, Harris said she will oppose Bumatay’s nomination going forward, citing a “troubling prosecutorial record” and inexperience.

“A nominee for a lifetime appointment to the federal bench must demonstrate exceptional skill, professionalism and respect for the principle of equal justice under law,” Harris said in a statement. “Mr. Bumatay does not meet this standard.”

A member of the conservative Federalist Society, Bumatay drew praise from conservatives after Trump announced he will again put him forward to sit on the Ninth Circuit.

“Patrick Bumatay will make a terrific judge on the Ninth Circuit,” former Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. “He has dedicated his career to upholding the rule of law. Patrick’s many fine qualities, including his integrity, intellect and collegiality, make him exceedingly worthy of this position.”

Alongside Bumatay, Trump chose former Nevada Solicitor General Lawrence VanDyke to fill a Ninth Circuit vacancy. VanDyke serves as deputy assistant attorney general at the environment and natural resources division of the Justice Department.

While the tope appellate lawyer in Nevada, VanDyke fought the Obama administration’s Waters of the United States regulation, which the Trump administration repealed last week. He also signed onto briefs challenging Obama immigration and employment law regulations, litigation that will likely draw scrutiny from Democrats.

Another Federalist Society member, VanDyke also worked as assistant solicitor general of Texas and as the solicitor general of Montana. He previously spent time as an associate at the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher.

Nevada Senators Jacky Rosen and Catherine Cortez Masto, both Democrats, criticized the nominations and accused the White House of ignoring “the broad, consensus-based opinion of Nevadans.”

“Instead, the White House has chosen to move forward on their extreme judicial agenda,” Rosen and Cortez Masto said in a joint statement. “While we will review the full record of this nominee, we are disappointed that the White House has chosen to nominate a candidate with a concerning record of ideological legal work.”

The remaining nominees Trump announced Friday are up for seats on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.

Michelle Pettit, one of the Southern District of California nominees, has worked as a federal prosecutor in the district since 2007 and before that was senior trial counsel for the U.S. Navy in San Diego.

Her fellow nominee, Knut Johnson, is in private practice in San Diego, where he focuses on criminal defense, including white collar crime and regulatory offenses.

Steve Kim, up for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, is currently a magistrate judge on the same court, having taken the position after working as managing director at the firm Stroz Friedberg, where he worked on cybersecurity compliance and data privacy issues. Kim has also served as a federal prosecutor.

John Holcomb, nominated to a seat on the same court, focuses on intellectual property and bankruptcy litigation at the Costa Mesa, Calif., firm Greenberg Gross. A former officer in the Navy, Holcomb previously ran his own private practice and worked as a partner at the Riverside and Irvine, Calif., firm Knobbe Martens.

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