Federal Judge Takes Senior Status, But No Appointee Named

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — One of two U.S. District judges for Idaho announced seven months ago that he'd take senior status in August, but there's still no official nominee to replace him.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill planned to continue to hear a full caseload when he took senior status on Aug. 16, but expected Idaho to have a new district judge to replace him by then — effectively giving the state the third judge it has needed for decades, the Idaho Press reported.

“We desperately need the help,” Winmill said.

But there’s been no word from the White House about a nominee for the now-open second federal judgeship, though Idaho’s top Democratic elected officials interviewed candidates last winter and submitted an all-female shortlist of four nominees to the Biden administration in March: Idaho Falls attorney DeAnne Casperson, Boise attorney Keely Duke, Boise attorney Deborah Ferguson, and former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson.

“We had exceptionally qualified candidates, really they were all superb,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, a Democrat from Boise. “We felt like Idaho would be extremely well served with any of these folks on the bench.”

But Rubel said she hasn’t heard a thing from the White House.

Idaho is one of just three states with only two U.S. district judges; it hasn’t gotten an additional judgeship in 60 years, though its caseloads have soared. Idaho’s congressional delegation has long pushed for the state to get an additional judgeship, and all four of its members are sponsoring legislation to do just that, though it hasn’t advanced. The nonpartisan Judicial Council of the United States has been recommending a third judgeship be added for Idaho since 2003.

Wyoming, with less than a third of Idaho’s population, has three district judges. So does Montana, with less than two-thirds of Idaho’s population.

Idaho is also one of just two states that has never had a female U.S. district judge; the other is North Dakota.

Traditionally, state senators are given a big say in federal district judge nominees, but that system was jettisoned under the Trump administration. The Senate — where Democrats hold a thin majority — must confirm any nominee by simple majority. It’s unclear what role Idaho’s Republican senators will play in the nomination.

Sen. Jim Risch’s office declined to comment.

Lindsay Nothern, spokesman for Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, said his office has had several preliminary conversations with the White House.

“We remain hopeful that we can find consensus about a preferred candidate for the position,” Nothern said.

Carl Tobias, a law professor with the University of Richmond who tracks federal judicial nominations, said of Idaho’s senators, “Well, they ought to get in line. And they’re not alone. Biden has not nominated anyone for a district seat in any state represented by a Republican senator — yet. But as I understand it from both senators, Idaho’s in dire straits now and needs at least one more Article III judge to handle the caseload, and it’s been an extreme situation for some time.”

There’s a queue of states awaiting word on nominations, Tobias said, with roughly 30 people from various states nominated for federal judgeships so far. More will likely be confirmed when Congress returns from its August break, he said.

“The people of Idaho are going to be disserved if they can’t get somebody in there,” the professor said. “And when it gets into 2022, nobody’s going to be in any hurry to nominate and confirm people in red states.”

Winmill, who has served on Idaho’s federal bench for 26 years, said, “The fact that we’ve never had a female district judge has always been of concern to me. I think that needs to be addressed. We need to be at a point in our society where gender doesn’t matter, where we don’t even think about it.”