Todd Ruger

Trump’s Tweets Again Spark Courtroom Questions on Travel Ban
“Do we just ignore reality?” one judge asked

President Donald Trump retweeted three anti-Muslim videos last week, just as two appeals courts prepared to hear arguments on challenges to the latest version of his travel ban. 

The tweets were bound to come up in court — and they did in a big way Friday, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit grilled a Justice Department attorney on whether the tweets taint the restrictions on immigration from eight countries, including six that are majority-Muslim. 

Kennedy’s Tough Questions Add Layer to Wedding Cake Arguments
Spirited arguments lasted longer than expected Tuesday

As a divided Supreme Court on Tuesday forcefully questioned where to draw a line between religious liberty and anti-discrimination laws in the case of a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, the justice likely to be the deciding vote appeared torn over how to rule. 

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy expressed reservations about a decision that would allow Masterpiece Cakeshop owner Jack Phillips to refuse to create wedding cakes for gay and lesbian couples because of his religious beliefs.

Lawmakers Add to the Mix in Same-Sex Wedding Cake Case
Oral arguments before the Supreme Court scheduled Tuesday

Lawmakers weighed in on the legal issues before the Supreme Court’s oral arguments Tuesday about whether a Colorado baker who calls himself an artist can decline to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

As Republican lawmakers led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said in a brief filed with the court, “This case, of course, goes beyond a cake.”

Senate Republicans Move on Trump’s Appeals Court Picks
Chamber confirms Gregory Katsas to D.C. Circuit in 50-48 vote

Senate Republicans are pressing forward this week on putting President Donald Trump’s appeals court picks on the bench, with a floor vote Tuesday for the pivotal circuit court in Washington and an upcoming confirmation hearing for a judge that Minnesota Democrat Al Franken has tried to block.

The Senate voted, 50-48, to confirm Gregory Katsas to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which often has the last word on appeals of presidential actions and issues decisions that have a national impact on environmental, energy and regulatory policies.

Senators Unlike Judicial Nominee’s Tweets
Judiciary Committee not amused by Don Willett’s social media output

A darling of #AppellateTwitter, Don Willett is a Texas Supreme Court justice whose wit earned 104,000 followers on the social media website before President Donald Trump nominated him to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

But the Senate Judiciary Committee took a bit of shine off the Lone Star State’s officially designated “Tweeter Laureate” on Wednesday, when senators tore into him for some tweets and even told Willett it would be a good idea to just stop tweeting altogether.

Sessions Defends His Reputation in First House Testimony
“I will not accept, and reject accusations I have ever lied”

Attorney General Jeff Sessions vigorously defended himself Tuesday against “false charges” that he was untruthful in previous testimony about his role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and any connections to Russian operatives.

“I will not accept, and reject accusations I have ever lied,” Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing stretching for five-and-a-half hours. “That is a lie.”

Sessions Defends His Reputation in First House Testimony
‘I will not accept, and reject accusations I have ever lied’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions vigorously defended himself Tuesday against “false charges” that he was untruthful in previous testimony about his role in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and any connections to Russian operatives.

“I will not accept, and reject accusations I have ever lied,” Sessions told the House Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing lasting more than 5 hours. “That is a lie.”

Trump on Course for Least Diverse Judicial Picks Since Reagan
President’s nominees have been overwhelmingly white and male

President Donald Trump’s picks for federal judgeships reflect a strikingly different direction when it comes to diversity on the bench — it is the most white and male group of nominees in recent history.

So far, 91 percent of Trump’s 58 judicial nominees for district and appeals courts are white, a pace that would make his appointees the least diverse since the Reagan administration, according to statistics compiled by the liberal advocacy group Alliance for Justice. Only 19 percent of his picks are women, a pace that would make his appointees the most male since the George H.W. Bush administration.

Supreme Court to Mull Congressional Power in Lawsuits
Michigan case could reshape Congress’ power to affect court outcomes

The Supreme Court will hear arguments Tuesday in a case that questions whether Congress crossed a line by telling federal courts what to do with challenges to a Michigan land tract and its use as a Native American casino.

It will be the second time in two years the justices will consider a case that could reshape Congress’ power to use legislation to affect the outcome of specific ongoing court cases.

Senators to Grill ABA on Rare Thumbs-Down for Grasz
Judiciary Committee members have questions about ”not qualified” rating

A controversial appeals court nominee from Nebraska, who received a rare unanimous “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association, has revived concerns about whether the legal organization is biased. 

The organization has long conducted nonpartisan reviews of federal judicial nominees and rated them for the Senate Judiciary Committee. The vast majority of the time the group finds a nominee “qualified” or “well-qualified,” and has done so even with the numerous controversial judge picks President Donald Trump has made.

Contentious N.C. Judicial Nominee Advances to Senate Floor
Eastern District of North Carolina seat has been open for 12 years

The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday advanced a controversial nominee to fill the longest vacancy in the federal court system as well as a top Justice Department official.

The committee voted 11-9 along party lines to advance Thomas Farr to be a judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina. The spot has been open for 12 years and has long been caught up in the politics of the state and U.S. Senate. Since judicial nominees can’t be filibustered, Democrats don’t have the votes to stop Farr’s lifetime appointment without help from Republicans.

Democrats Drop Congeniality as They Fire Away at Sessions
‘Give me a break,’ attorney general implores at one point

Attorney General Jeff Sessions took an unusual path to the witness table before Wednesday’s Justice Department oversight hearing. He looped behind the dais to smile and shake the hands of his former Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues and pat them on the shoulder.

But the next four hours made it clear that congeniality has faded for the former Alabama Republican senator. Democrats lectured him on immigration policy, questioned his truthfulness in previous testimony about Russia and criticized his implementation of the Trump administration’s conservative policies.

Senators Ready to Confront Sessions at Oversight Hearing
Attorney General likely to face contentious questions about his leadership

Attorney General Jeff Sessions returns to face his former Senate Judiciary Committee colleagues Wednesday in an oversight hearing likely to include contentious questions about Justice Department actions since he took on the role eight months ago.

“The attorney general will earn his money that day,” said committee member John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican.

Senators Debate When Nominee’s Religion Is Fair Game
Democrats’ questioning of appeals court pick stirs discussion

A Senate Judiciary Committee vote on a controversial appeals court pick Thursday prompted a discussion about when it is appropriate to ask questions about a nominee’s religion — and even a suggestion to hold a public hearing on the issue.

The topic arose because of questions Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California and Richard J. Durbin of Illinois asked last month during a confirmation hearing for Amy Barrett, a University of Notre Dame law professor and a Roman Catholic who is nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit.

Court Appears Divided in High-Stakes Gerrymandering Case
Apparent swing vote Anthony Kennedy offers few clues in arguments

The Supreme Court appeared deeply divided during oral arguments Tuesday in a case that could determine the fate of partisan gerrymandering across the nation, as one attorney suggested a wrong move by the court could cause the country “to lose faith in democracy, big time.”

Paul Smith, who represents the Wisconsin voters who challenged a Republican-drawn legislative map in the case now before the court, urged the justices to step in and allow federal courts to stop partisan gerrymandering.

Trump Looms Large Over New Supreme Court Term
Nation’s highest court set to hear gay rights, redistricting and immigration cases

For a Supreme Court that guards against being perceived as political, the new term starting Monday is poised to show just how President Donald Trump and Republicans have shaped what will happen in the courtroom.

The court avoided high-profile contentious cases and otherwise laid low during partisan fights over the seat left vacant by the death of Antonin Scalia in 2016. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans went to historic lengths to block President Barack Obama’s pick for Scalia’s seat for months until the presidential election.

Civil Rights, Racial Disputes Fuel Divide Over Judicial Nominee
North Carolina senators defend Thomas Farr

President Donald Trump’s pick for a federal judgeship in North Carolina has drawn the opposition of the Congressional Black Caucus and civil rights groups in part because of past work defending the state’s congressional redistricting plans and voter ID law, which courts have struck down as unfair to minorities.

The vacancy in the Eastern District of North Carolina has fallen victim to the Tar Heel State’s contentious politics and the Senate’s confirmation process — making it now the oldest judicial vacancy in the country at 11 years and 9 months.

Senators Could Lose ‘Blue Slip’ Input on Circuit Judges
President would have less reason to consult with lawmakers

A looming showdown over a Senate tradition could strip senators of a de facto veto power over nominees to federal appeals courts — and give President Donald Trump less reason to consult with senators about which judges should be appointed.

The Judiciary Committee’s “blue slip” process has required senators to return a blue slip of paper before the committee schedules hearings and markups of nominees for federal judgeships from their home states. No slip, no hearing. That has made it essential for the White House to get a senator’s buy-in on a nomination.

Donald Trump Jr. Talks to Senate Investigators
But details beyond opening statement remain private for now

Donald Trump Jr. spent about five hours Thursday answering questions from Senate Judiciary Committee staff about a meeting he set up between his father’s presidential campaign and a Russian lawyer, but the details beyond his opening statement remain private for now.

Several senators attended the closed-door, voluntary interview with the president’s son, part of the committee’s probe into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Only Senate staffers asked questions, however, and the committee will have to vote at a later time on whether to make the transcript public.

In the Courthouse: Cases Affecting Congress Work Way Through System

Several high-profile cases affecting Congress are making their way through the federal court system, including how congressional districts are drawn in Texas and Maryland, as well as a criminal trial affecting a sitting U.S. senator. 

On Friday, Texas asked the Supreme Court to stop a court-ordered redrawing of the state’s congressional districts ahead of the 2018 election, or risk “chaos” in the state’s election timeline for a second time this decade.