Trump Taps Mississippi Judge for Seat on Fifth Circuit

WASHINGTON (CN) — President Donald Trump announced plans Monday to fill a long-vacant seat on the Fifth Circuit, eyeing a Mississippi Court of Appeals judge who previously served as a Republican state lawmaker.

Judge Cory Wilson has served on the state appeals court since 2019 after spending three years as a GOP member of the Mississippi House of Representatives. Trump previously nominated Wilson to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, but he has not yet been voted out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Great Hall.

In addition to his time in the state legislature, Wilson worked in private practice and as deputy secretary of state and chief of staff for the Mississippi secretary of state.

If confirmed, Wilson would fill a seat on the New Orleans-based federal appeals court that has been vacant since 2017.

“The elevation of Judge Cory Wilson’s nomination to the circuit court of appeals reflects President Trump’s confidence in Cory’s conservative judicial philosophy, legal knowledge, academic and public service,” Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., said in a statement. “I’ve known Judge Wilson for many years. He is well qualified to serve on this court, and I will do everything I can to promote his confirmation.”

Trump previously tried to fill the vacancy on the reliably conservative appeals court with U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden, but Ozerden’s nomination stalled due to rare opposition from conservative Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Though he had the support of Mississippi’s Republican senators and is close to outgoing acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, it was clear by the end of last year that Ozerden would not be confirmed and his nomination lapsed.

After vocally opposing Ozerden’s nomination, Kelly Shackelford, a conservative Texas attorney and president of the First Liberty Institute, praised Trump on Monday for tapping Wilson for the seat. Shackelford had argued Ozerden did not have the conservative track record to warrant a seat on the Fifth Circuit.

During his January confirmation hearing for his nomination to the federal district court, Wilson defended himself from Democrats who said his record on issues from abortion to gun rights as a legislator call into question his ability to judge fairly.

While in state government, Wilson voted for laws that banned abortion after 15 weeks and after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Before taking office. he referred to the federal health care law as “illegitimate” and wrote in support of voter identification laws. The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights opposed his nomination, calling him “more suited to serve as a Fox News commentator than federal judge.”

When faced with criticism during his confirmation hearing, Wilson said he views the job of a judge and the job of a legislator as fundamentally different.

“Basically, personal preferences, policy views, policy preferences, are not what I consider to be a legitimate part of judging,” Wilson said in January.

In addition to Wilson, Trump chose Mississippi Solicitor General Kristi Johnson for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. A member of the conservative Federalist Society like Wilson, Johnson became the state’s first solicitor general in February, after spending time as a federal prosecutor and at the firm Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart.

“A native Mississippian and current solicitor general of Mississippi, Johnson is a well-respected litigator who has the qualifications, intellect, and experience necessary to serve with distinction,” Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., said in a statement. “And, if confirmed, she would bring an important perspective to the bench as the first woman to serve as a federal judge for the Southern District.”

Both nominees will now go to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where they await nomination hearings. The timeline for their confirmations is unclear, however, with the Senate on recess through at least April 20 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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