Purdon and Maring: It's time for a federal Judicial Nominating Commission in North Dakota
Federal judges rule on issues important to North Dakotans every day. The rulings decide whether a person committed a crime and what the punishment should be, the constitutionality of a law, disputes between two or more states, bankruptcy cases and more.
Nominating committees to screen candidates for federal court vacancies have been used by senators in several states for more than 30 years, including prominent Republicans Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz. These committees are used in states represented by senators from both parties, such as Wisconsin's Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin. A professional process that considers all of the available, interested and qualified attorneys in the state should be used to fill lifetime appointments to these critically important decision-making courts.
The advantages of a committee process to recommend candidates for appointment to the federal bench include enhancing public trust in the process and the courts; inviting applications from individuals who might not otherwise come to the senators' attention; and providing a voice to varied constituencies, including non-lawyers and members of both political parties.
These federal level commissions bear certain similarities to state level judicial nominating commissions now operating in the majority of states, including North Dakota. North Dakota's state level Judicial Nominating Commission has been successfully helping governors fill judicial openings for state courts for decades.
In the history of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, out of the 62 appointed judges only two have been women and only two have been people of color. In North Dakota, the statistics are even more one-sided. Since statehood, North Dakota has had seventeen federal judges appointed. Not one has been a woman. In fact, North Dakota is one of only two states that have never had a woman sit on these district and circuit federal courts.
The state of North Dakota has many talented and qualified women lawyers. They have served with distinction at the state court level (approximately 22 percent of state court judges are women) and as federal magistrate judges and as a bankruptcy judge, but never at the federal district or circuit court levels. Enhancing the opportunity for every North Dakota lawyer, regardless of gender, to serve on the bench promotes public confidence in the legitimacy of the courts and enriches judicial decision-making.
North Dakota deserves the very best and a commission process to recruit, screen and recommend candidates to our senators for federal court judgeships would help ensure that outcome.
Muehlen Maring is the owner of Maring Mediation. She was appointed to the North Dakota Supreme Court by Gov. Ed Schafer in 1996 and retired from the Court Dec. 31, 2013. Purdon is a partner at Robins Kaplan LLP. He was appointed U.S. Attorney for the North Dakota by Pres. Barack Obama in 2010 and served in that position until March of 2015.