In September, President Obama nominated Abid Qureshi to become a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Superior Court Judge Todd Edelman was nominated by Obama in April to serve on the D.C. District Court. As was Superior Court judge Florence Pan.
D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) recommended all three nominees to Obama. Norton’s recommendations were based upon the findings of a Federal Law Enforcement Nominating Commission that she formed to help her screen candidates. Obama, as did President Bill Clinton, extended senatorial courtesy to her in connection with federal appointments in the District.
All of Norton’s work, along with that of her nominating commission and Obama, has been in vain, thanks to the outcome of this year’s presidential election.
The nominations of Qureshi and Edelman will die along with Norton’s commission when the Senate adjourns next month. Pan’s nomination has been reported by the Judiciary Committee to the Senate floor and could possibly receive a vote before adjournment.
The nominations of Qureshi and Edelman, however, have not even been scheduled for public hearings.
That means at least two federal court vacancies in the District will carry over to next year and be filled by — guess who? — President Donald Trump. The answer as to who will advise Trump on federal judicial nominations in the District is a mystery to be solved when the time comes.
The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia — currently occupied by Channing D. Phillips, an Obama appointee — is likely to confront a similar outcome.
The U.S. attorney serves at the pleasure of the president. If tradition holds, Phillips, along other U.S. attorneys around the country, will submit a letter of resignation at the start of Trump’s administration.
Expect the resignation of Phillips — who was one of former attorney general Eric Holder’s top aides — to be accepted. Expect, too, that Trump will appoint a new U.S. attorney for the District. Bad as that may sound, it may be the good news. The bad news is that conservative U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who is likely to become the next attorney general, will have a strong hand in selecting Phillips’s replacement.
It’s worth recalling, as the New York Times reported Friday, that while serving as a U.S. prosecutor in Alabama in 1986, Sessions was nominated by President Ronald Reagan for a federal judgeship. His nomination was rejected, however, by the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee “because of racially charged comments and actions,” the Times reported.
The issue of District of Columbia’s governance will also loom large over the next four years.
Less noticed in all the GOP convention fanfare in July in Cleveland, the D.C. Republican Party recommended the following to the Republican platform committee: “The Congress should amend the DC Home Rule Charter to require that the elections for Mayor, Council and DC Attorney General be nonpartisan.”
Will the D.C. Republican Party pursue this issue next year now that the White House and both houses of Congress are in GOP hands?
When asked this week, D.C. Republican Party Executive Director Patrick Mara responded by email: “I have mentioned the possibility of non-partisan elections to two different members of the House DC subcommittee and to [GOP Sen.] Ron Johnson’s staff.” Mara said it is not a well-planned effort at this point. He added, however, “It could be by next year.” He added, “We need to see makeup of the Senate and House committees and also determine any interest in the Trump Administration.”
The D.C. GOP will not be breaking new ground if it takes a crack at ending partisan elections in the District.
The Home Rule Act passed by the House of Representatives in 1973 did provide for nonpartisan elections for mayor and council. The Senate-passed version provided, however, for partisan elections. I know because I was the Senate minority staff director on the Senate District of Columbia Committee at the time.
In the closed-door House-Senate conference committee to resolve differences between the two versions, Senate D.C. Committee Chairman Tom Eagleton (D-Mo.) strenuously objected to nonpartisan elections. He prevailed.
But the idea never died.
It could be resurrected next year.
Ready or not, the District may end up in the GOP’s bulls-eye.