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Christine Hurt on Jennifer Walker Elrod:
On Thursday, Jennifer Walker Elrod was nominated to an open seat on the Fifth Circuit. Over at the Conglomerate, Christine Hurt comments:
Jennifer was a great role model to me when I became a working mother, having preceded me in that noble profession by a year or so. . . . I am posting two photos of her: her professional photo and a photo of her holding my son at 8 months. (Wasn't he a bruiser?)
You can see the post and the picture here.
BruceM (mail) (www):
I'm a lawyer here in houston (harris county) and Judge Elrod has a pretty good reputation. I've never appeared in her court before as I mostly do criminal law (her court is a civil district court) so I don't have first hand knowledge.

I do think the rule of thumb is that judges for the federal circuit courts of appeals should come from the federal district courts or from state courts of appeals. Little experience with appeals or federal law, while not making a judge unqualified, certainly gives one the impression that there are more qualified and experienced candidates for the job. For Bush, all that matters is that they vote republican and say they love jesus... so it's a tossup as to whether they'll be qualified or not.
3.31.2007 9:30pm
MS (mail):
So she was an associate at Baker Botts with Christine. How does that make this forty-year old qualified for a promotion from state trial court to the Fifth Circuit?

"Party Leaders recognize Jennifer Elrod as one of our own -- a fellow worker for over 15 years in many campaigns. She possesses the qualities we want in a judge."
- Iris Manes, Harris County Republican Party Secretary
4.1.2007 1:53am
The Rabbit:
MS,

Contrary to your comment, no one suggests she is qualified because she was an associate with Professor Hurt. Supporters suggest that she is qualified because she is very smart (harvard law) and has an excellent reputation as a state court judge (see article linked to above) from lawyers who have a very wide set of beliefs.
4.1.2007 1:59am
MS (mail):
The Rabbit,

For God's sake man, this is higginbotham's seat. Would it have killed you hacks to promote Rosenthal or Godbey? Houston is crawling with lawyers like Elrod, except perhaps for the 15 years of Republican Party campaign work.
4.1.2007 2:06am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Politics is a valid consideration in nomination appellate judges. These are, after all, political positions.
4.1.2007 2:12am
Viscus (mail) (www):
Bah. Maybe I should edit. Then again, it is a mere blog comment. I should have written:

Politics is a valid consideration in the nomination of judges. These are, after all, political positions.
4.1.2007 2:13am
MS (mail):
Viscus,

But when politics is the only consideration, I expect my Democratic senators to kill the nomination in committee. These are, after all, political positions.
4.1.2007 2:19am
MS (mail):
Viscus,

Editing --- like articles and prepositions -- is for suckers. I understood you just fine.
4.1.2007 2:21am
The Rabbit:
"You hacks?" MS, I strongly dislike the Bush Administration and didn't vote for Bush. I'm not sure why you think I am one of "you hacks."
4.1.2007 2:32am
MS (mail):
The Rabbit,

I'm sorry.
4.1.2007 2:34am
The Rabbit:
MS, thanks for apologizing. I'm curious, do you know Elrod personally or have first-hand knowledge of her as a judge?
4.1.2007 2:36am
Public_Defender (mail):
Politics is a valid consideration in nomination appellate judges. These are, after all, political positions.

Politics is also a valid consideration in blocking a nomination in the Senate.

That said, there are lots of state court judges who would make perfectly fine federal judges, which belies Chief Justice Roberts' argument that we need to attract more big firm lawyers to the bench.
4.1.2007 8:53am
jmcg (mail):
I think MS raised a valid point. I would label Higginbotham as the 5th Cir's technocrat. He does tackle a lot of the behind-the-scenes, arcane problems and questions for the Article III courts. She might not be the one to fill those shoes. What remains to be seen is if she is a conservative firebrand/rock star in the mold of another 5th Cir judge with a similar career trajectory: Edith Jones. My guess is she is not. Bush was probably looking for a wallflower after watching how the ABA and its goons came out of the woodwook against Wallace.
4.1.2007 2:27pm
BruceM (mail) (www):
Politics seems to be the ONLY consideration here ("she's been a loyal hardworking republican and that's what we want in a judge.") with the rebuttal that she worked at a good law firm and is a hardworking rarely-complained-about state district judge.

But yes, Lee Rosenthal is more qualified in every possible way to take this 5th Cir. seat.
4.1.2007 2:28pm
Justice Fuller:
Politics seems to be the ONLY consideration here . . . Lee Rosenthal is more qualified in every possible way to take this 5th Cir. seat.

BruceM,

Age probable played a factor: Elrod is 40, Rosenthal is 55.
4.1.2007 2:47pm
kim caldwell (mail):
I support Elrod; however, there were Republican Candidates in the running way more qualified than she, with Harvard Law backgrounds, appellate court experience, impeccable resumes &all. Politics definitely played a major role in this nomination. A lifetime appointment; Boy she's a lucky young judge. Wish it were that easy for ethnic minorities pursuing federal bench seats.
4.1.2007 6:11pm
Kate1999 (mail):
Kim,

Do you know of any ethnic minority conservative HLS grads with impeccable resumes? I'm sure they would get the nod in a heartbeat over someone like Elrod. Cf. Clarence Thomas.
4.1.2007 6:49pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Age probable played a factor: Elrod is 40, Rosenthal is 55.

Yet another reason to vote against her, and another reason to oppose a judicial pay raise. I'd rather have experienced lawyers retire into the position instead of making a 30-year career of it.
4.1.2007 8:16pm
kim caldwell (mail):
Trust me, they are out there. Do your homework &you will find them. That's the problem, no one wants to believe that they exist; therefore, keeping them under the radar for these highly political nominations. The Bush administration has the opportunity to be the 1st administration to place an African-American on the 5th Circuit in Texas and/or Mississippi. Stay tuned!
4.2.2007 12:48am
Kate1999 (mail):
Trust me, they are out there. Do your homework &you will find them.

How do you know, Kim? Conservatives have been looking for decades; what do you know that no one else does?
4.2.2007 1:10am
Houston Atty (mail):
As is so often the case, ignorance is vitriol's handmaiden in the comments section. Though I would have preferred that Bush elevate Lee Rosenthal as well, Judge Elrod is fully qualified and fully capable of sitting with honor and distinction on the Fifth Circuit.

Let's leave aside her impressive but political resume. There's no question she was nominated in part for political reasons — something no Democratic President would ever do, I know — but as with every other political appointment, she should ultimately be evaluated on a single criterion: Does she have the goods?

She does. Judge Elrod combines the three essential characteristics of the federal appellate judge in good proportion: A commitment to and love for the rule of law, an impressively deep and broad intellect, and a fantastic work ethic. I worked with Judge Elrod closely on a number of matters in private practice, and have seen the federal appellate bench up close and personal in a variety of circuits — Elrod is smarter than the majority of circuit court judges, and she works harder, too.

As for her purported lack of federal experience, Judge Elrod's private practice was largely federal (antitrust), which also bespeaks mental dexterity and depth beyond the big-firm norm. There may be a few other similarly qualified lawyers in Harris County, but contra "MS," Houston isn't "crawling with them."

Judge Elrod is, of course, reliably Republican. To a large extent, the ignorant and uninformed criticism she's receiving in this forum would seem to originate primarily in this rather unremarkable fact. I'm no Republican myself, and I disagree with Judge Elrod on a number of political issues. But as far as I know, I haven't yet been elected President, and neither have any of you. Feel free to nominate judges with different politics when you occupy the Oval Office, and I'll do the same.

One final note: jmcg asks if Elrod has the potential to be another "conservative firebrand/rock star" like Edith Jones. I don't think so. Judge Elrod's conservatism, while real, is tempered by her deep compassion for others and is subordinated to her commitment to the rule of law. She won't be looking to set the world on fire. The "wallflower strategy" comment seems accurate to me.
4.2.2007 12:49pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Feel free to nominate judges with different politics when you occupy the Oval Office, and I'll do the same.

And feel free to block judges with different politics when you control the Senate.
4.2.2007 3:25pm
Houston Atty (mail):
Public_Defender: Umm, I have no particular problem with that, as long as we call a spade a spade. But vitriolic criticism -- in ignorance -- of someone's baseline qualifications solely because we know political considerations entered into the nomination equation? That's fairly pathetic.

If the Dem. majority (and/or its online proxies here at VC) wants to make trouble for Judge Elrod on purely political grounds, okay. "If Bush wants her, we don't" -- that would be fine with me. But that's not how the game is played, is it? Instead, we must find some way to challenge qualifications, or some way of alleging that a candidate's jurisprudential views are "outside the mainstream," or some way to impugn character, in order to provide cover for what is really an issue of pure power politics.

My point: Though I don't agree with much of what I assume to be Judge Elrod's personal political beliefs, I can confidently and without reservation speak to her fitness for the position. She's more than smart enough, she works more than hard enough, and her commitment to the rule of law is unshakable.

Democrats should feel free to oppose her nomination on political grounds, if they're willing to expend that political capital. But they shouldn't try to minimize those expenditures by ginning up spurious "substantive" criticisms of Judge Elrod's qualifications or record.
4.2.2007 3:43pm
kim caldwell (mail):
Bottom Line, there are numerous Judges who were astoundingly more qualified.
4.2.2007 7:57pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Public_Defender: Umm, I have no particular problem with that, as long as we call a spade a spade. But vitriolic criticism -- in ignorance -- of someone's baseline qualifications solely because we know political considerations entered into the nomination equation? That's fairly pathetic.

Someone claimed that she had 15 years of campaign work behind her. That's a strike against her, regardless of her party. It's all a matter of degree. I think the main factor against her is her age. Republicans like to stack the judiciary with young attorneys with lots of campaign work under their belt.

Let her reaply in 15 years. She'll only be 55.
4.2.2007 8:57pm
Georgia Lawyer (mail):
I have known Judge Elrod for many years. After graduating from Harvard Law fifteen years ago, she gained an excellent reputation within the Rusk courthouse as a federal law clerk, and furthered this reputation among the local bar as a litigator with Baker Botts. She has a classic judicial temperament, and most importantly, she is devoted to the integrity of the judicial process. (I'm basing this conclusion on both public and private comments she has made about the need for judges to be intellectually honest and open with the public about their decisions and the rationale for those decisions.)

If the only criticisms that can be drummed up about her are: (1) she's "only" 40 years old (despite trying 125 cases as a judge and litigating many more in private practice); (2) Lee Rosenthal is also an excellent judge (which she is); and (3) Judge Elrod has worked on political campaigns, then there's not much to talk about. Judge Elrod is qualified.
4.5.2007 12:00pm