An empty courtroom at the Superior Court of California courthouse

An empty courtroom at the Superior Court of California courthouse

President Donald Trump has started the process to fill more than 120 federal judicial vacancies. These appointments could shape the nation’s federal courts for generations. Who are they? And what impact might they have?


  • Adam Liptak Supreme Court correspondent, The New York Times
  • Justice Janine Geske (Ret.) Justice on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1993-1998; professor at Marquette University Law School
  • Judge Nancy Gertner (Ret.) Former federal judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts; lecturer at Harvard Law School

President Trump's Nominees for Federal Courts

Justice Joan L. Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati. Prior to her appointment to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2015, she was a professor at the University of Michigan School of Law. Justice Larsen received her J.D. from Northwestern University, and she clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court of the United States. SCOTUSblog writes that she “has not addressed any hot-button issues” while on the Michigan bench. However, because Justice Larsen was on President Trump’s list of potential SCOTUS nominees, she recused herself from two cases in which Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein petitioned for recounts in Michigan.

David R. Stras has been an Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court since 2010. He was nominated to the Eighth Circuit in St. Louis. Justice Stras received his law degree from the University of Kansas, and he clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas prior to joining the faculty of the University of Minnesota Law School. He also used to be a frequent contributor to SCOTUSblog, and in 2010 gave an interview to their podcast on what it was like to clerk for Justice Thomas.

In March, President Trump nominated Amul R. Thapar to the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati. Judge Thapar, who is currently a federal district court judge in Kentucky, is still waiting on confirmation. Most notably, Judge Thapar ruled on the case of three activists, including an 84-year-old nun, who broke into a nuclear plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and contaminated the site with human blood.

Amy Coney Barrett was nominated to the Seventh Circuit in Chicago. Currently, she’s a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, where she also received her J.D. A former law clerk to Justice Scalia, she was appointed by Chief Justice Roberts to serve a six-year term on the Advisory Committee for the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure.

John K. Bush, is a lawyer in Louisville, Kentucky. President Trump has nominated him to the Sixth Circuit. Mr. Bush received his J.D. at Harvard Law School, and went into private practice after a year of clerking on the Eighth Circuit. Most notably, Mr. Bush was on the team of the attorneys who represented former Los Angeles Police Sergeant Stacey Koon in his sentencing appeal to the Supreme Court after the Rodney King case.

Kevin C. Newsom is the former Solicitor General of Alabama, now in private practice in Birmingham. He was nominated to the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. He’s a Harvard graduate and former Supreme Court clerk to Justice David H. Souter.

Federal district:

Dabney L. Friedrich was nominated to the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia. Most recently a member of the United States Sentencing Commission, Mrs. Friedrich was previously Associate Counsel to former President George W. Bush. She received her J.D. from Yale Law School. In the last meeting of the United States Sentencing Commission that Mrs. Friedrich attended, Chief Judge Patti B. Saris commended her for being “very impactful in prison reform efforts to better educate prisoners in the Bureau of Prisons, particularly those with learning disabilities.”

Magistrate Judge Terry F. Moorer of the Federal District Court in Montgomery, Alabama was nominated to be a district judge. Judge Moorer retired as a colonel from the National Guard in 2014, having received a Bronze Star Medal for his service during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He received his J.D. from the University of Alabama Law School.

David C. Nye, a judge for Idaho’s Sixth Judicial District Court since 2007, was renominated to the Federal District Court. Former President Obama nominated him to the same seat last year, and the Senate held an initial hearing on the nomination, but he was never confirmed. He received his J.D. from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University.

Scott L. Palk will also receive a renomination, to the Federal District Court in Oklahoma City, after his Obama nomination expired. Currently an Assistant Dean of Students at the University of Oklahoma College of Law, Mr. Palk used to be an Assistant US Attorney for the State of Oklahoma, prosecuting violent crimes and gangs. He received a special award from the Drug Enforcement Administration for “Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Drug Law Enforcement.”

Finally, Damien M. Schiff, a lawyer with the Pacific Legal Foundation, was nominated to the United States Court of Federal Claims, for which he once clerked. Schiff is currently a lawyer at the Pacific Legal Foundation, a non-profit, conservative public interest firm. Schiff works on issues related to federal regulation of property under the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act.

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