Thomas Michael Hardiman, a federal appeals court judge in Pittsburgh for the past 10 years, has not followed the typical path to the Supreme Court. He was the first in his family to graduate from college, did not attend an Ivy League law school and helped pay for his education by driving a taxi.
But Hardiman, 51, has a strongly conservative record and is reportedly the favorite of President Trump’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who serves with him as a senior judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, based in Philadelphia, and has spoken to her brother about appointing him to the Supreme Court.
“He has excellent credentials, not just academically but his career,” said Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the conservative Judicial Crisis Network. “But he’s also got one of the most interesting personal stories. He worked his way up from a working-class background, he has a really strong volunteer ethic, and he has done a lot of pro bono work.”
But liberal groups oppose Hardiman as a Supreme Court choice, highlighting his opinions that have protected gun owners and limited the ability of citizens to hold police accountable. In Second Amendment cases, he has adopted a view more expansive than what the Supreme Court has so far endorsed.
Hardiman grew up in Waltham, Mass., where his father ran a taxi and school-transportation business. As a teenager, Hardiman drove a cab part time, as he did later to help pay for law school in Washington. He graduated from the University of Notre Dame on an academic scholarship and then attended Georgetown University Law Center — not Harvard or Yale, like the current Supreme Court justices. After law school, Hardiman worked for two years at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington.
Hardiman speaks Spanish fluently and studied in Mexico as an exchange student in college. In 2003, during his Senate confirmation hearing to become a federal judge, he described his work at the Ayuda immigration legal aid office in Washington as especially valuable.
“I volunteered at Ayuda, in the office, on a regular basis, and I did everything from fingerprinting and interviewing persons of Hispanic origin who entered the country without inspection and who were seeking work-authorization permits,” he recalled, adding, “When I got my law degree and my license to practice here in the District of Columbia, I represented several immigrants who had entered without inspection.”
From Washington, Hardiman moved to Pittsburgh in 1992 to practice law with a firm. He is a Republican; his wife, Lori Zappala Hardiman, comes from a prominent Democratic family in Pittsburgh.
Hardiman was appointed in 2003 by President George W. Bush to serve as a judge on the federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Two years later, Bush appointed Hardiman to the 3rd Circuit, which handles cases from Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the Virgin Islands. Hardiman was confirmed by the Senate 95 to 0.
“As a judge, he’s thoughtful, decent and tries hard to stay true to the contours of the law and facts when reaching a decision,” said Charles “Chip” Becker, a partner at Kline & Specter in Philadelphia and president of the Third Circuit Bar Association who has argued before Hardiman several times. “Personally, he’s warm, friendly and funny.”
Becker points to Hardiman’s opinion in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders , a challenge to the strip-search policy in a New Jersey jail, to emphasize that Hardiman is known for seeing “the varying sides of an issue.”
In the case, Albert Florence was searched twice during the seven days he was in a New Jersey jail after being arrested on a warrant for a traffic violation that he had already paid. In the lawsuit Florence filed against the jail officials, he said the searches were unreasonable because he was being held for not paying a fine, which isn’t a crime in the state.
Hardiman wrote the opinion, which reversed the district court’s opinion in favor of Florence, and found that in “balancing the jails’ security interests at the time of intake before arrestees enter the general population against the privacy interest of the inmates,” the jail strip searches are “reasonable.”
“That is a case about the balancing of issues,” Becker said. “Judge Hardiman didn’t say it’s clearly, indisputably, without question that the strip searches are right. He said, ‘on balance.’ There are issues both ways, but on balance, he thought those procedures were reasonable.”
Civil libertarians were outraged by the decision, but the Supreme Court affirmed Hardiman’s ruling 5 to 4.
Hardiman wrote the majority opinion in a 2010 case, Kelly v. Borough of Carlisle, holding that there is no clearly established First Amendment right to record police officers during a traffic stop.
In a 2013 case, Drake v. Filko, the 3rd Circuit held in favor of New Jersey that it was constitutional for the state to require people to show they had a “justifiable need” for a gun before they could be issued a license to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. But Hardiman dissented, saying the law violated the Second Amendment and that the Second Amendment “extends beyond the home.”
The Supreme Court declined to review the law.
Conservative supporters, including Severino, cited the Borough of Carlisle and Drake cases, among others, to illustrate why they would be pleased if Trump chose Hardiman.
“He has a long record of decisions that take the text of a law and the Constitution very seriously,” Severino said. “And that is just something that is just very important to finding someone who will carry on Justice [Antonin] Scalia’s legacy.”