Michael Brennan

Michael Brennan

President Donald Trump’s pick to fill a long-standing federal appellate court vacancy never cleared a state vetting commission, said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s office.

It’s the first time a nominee did not win the endorsement of the bipartisan state commission since it was established in 1979. The six-member commission issued a call for applicants for the Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals opening in February. None of the applicants garnered the requisite five votes to win a recommendation.

Normally, the state’s U.S. senators —in this case, Democrat Baldwin and Republican Ron Johnson — would take the commission’s picks and forward them on to the White House for consideration.

But the Trump administration ignored the process, announcing late last week that he had chosen Milwaukee attorney Michael Brennan, a close ally of Gov. Scott Walker, to fill the opening on the position. The 7th Circuit encompasses Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, and the open slot is designated for a judge from Wisconsin.

The slot Brennan would fill has stood empty since 2010, making it the longest unfilled appellate judgeship in the nation. Senate Republicans resisted confirming former President Barack Obama’s picks.

Disrespect for the process

Baldwin issued a statement that accuses Trump of ignoring Wisconsin’s traditions by choosing Brennan.

“This nominee is not a product of our Wisconsin Federal Judicial Nominating Commission,” she said. “I am extremely troubled that (the) President has taken a partisan approach that disrespects our Wisconsin process.”

Brennan previously served as chairman of an advisory committee that helped Walker choose state-level judicial appointees. Walker tweeted “congrats” to Brennan after Trump announced the nomination and issued a news release calling Brennan a “fair and impartial voice in our justice system.”

Johnson broke with Baldwin’s position, issuing a statement praising Trump for choosing Brennan.

“Our nation’s judicial system will be well served once he is confirmed by the Senate,” the statement said.

Asked if Johnson believes Brennan’s selection broke with Wisconsin tradition, Johnson spokesman Ben Voelkel noted that Brennan got bipartisan support from the commission, amassing three votes from Republican members and a vote from a Democratic member.

But Baldwin said Brennan would be the first nominee not to have received the requisite five votes from the commission since the process began.

Calls for withdrawal of another 7th Circuit nominee

Brennan is part of a slate of 10 federal judges recently selected by the White House. Controversy over Brennan's nomination comes at the same time that a legal watchdog group is calling on the Trump administration to withdraw another nominee for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

The Alliance for Justice contends that Trump's nominee Amy Coney Barrett, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, is unsuitable for the bench due to her belief that the Bible can precede U.S. law.

Barrett has never held a judicial position and has very little litigation experience.

“Amy Coney Barrett is a judicial nominee the likes of which we have rarely seen: a person who believes and has stated that judges can and should put their personal beliefs ahead of the law and Constitution when carrying out their duties, AFJ president Nan Aron said in a prepared statement. “Specifically, Barrett has written that judges should put their religious faith ahead of the law (emphasis by AFJ) in certain cases. She also has written that judges should not have to abide by precedent if they disagree with how past cases were decided. These views are so contrary to our system of democracy and justice that, in our view, they clearly disqualify her for the federal bench.”

For instance, Barrett has made “incredibly troubling remarks about when there a conflict between her religious beliefs and the law, the law comes second,” said AFJ legal director Dan Goldberg “She has questioned Roe v Wade, and she has said that legal precedent is irrelevant.” 

Federal judicial nominations are subject to Senate confirmation.


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