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Confirm Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl for the Eighth Circuit

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In January, President Barack Obama nominated Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl for a vacancy on the Eighth Circuit, the court that includes Nebraska and six other midwestern states. Obama praised her “unwavering integrity and outstanding commitment to public service.” Since 2002, Puhl has rendered valuable public service as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the District of North Dakota. However, 2016 is a presidential election year in which confirmations are delayed. Because Puhl is an exceptional, mainstream nominee and the court needs its full complement, she warrants expeditious appointment.

Puhl is peculiarly qualified to fill a vacancy on the Eighth Circuit that is assigned to North Dakota, which currently lacks representation by an active Eighth Circuit judge. She has been a dedicated federal prosecutor, who has prosecuted a broad array of criminal matters like those on the Eighth Circuit’s docket. Particularly important has been Puhl’s work on many cases that involve tribal issues and individual Native Americans. Because of her broad expertise, she has been assigned to many leadership roles involving cybersecurity, human trafficking and childhood safety. She earned a qualified rating from a majority of the ABA assessment committee.

{mosads}Thus, Puhl deserves approval, while she resembles other, moderate, diverse Obama appointees. Circuits without openings best deliver justice. Increased diversity improves comprehension and resolution of essential questions while reducing prejudices that undermine justice. Nonetheless, GOP treatment of Obama nominees indicates Puhl may not realize 2016 appointment.

During Obama’s first six years, Republicans cooperated little to confirm judges. Over 2015, when they captured a Senate majority, collaboration declined even more. Despite many pledges, the GOP has slowly afforded candidates for Obama’s consideration, hearings with ballots and final debates and votes. Senators approved merely one circuit jurist all last year and one in 2016. That contrasts with the ten judges the Democratic majority helped appoint in 2007-08 – the comparable juncture of George W. Bush’s presidency.

This year, Obama has proffered seven highly qualified, mainstream circuit nominees, but none received a hearing until May 18 and none has realized appointment. That means the bench has thirteen circuit, and 36 emergency, vacancies. Slow confirmations have adverse impacts, depriving courts of necessary resources and many litigants of justice. Few circuits face challenges more daunting than the Eighth.

The upper chamber should expeditiously process Puhl because it has a constitutional duty, and multiple precedents, regarding Bush appointees his last two years, apply. She also will provide valuable contributions and resembles nominees smoothly confirmed in presidential election years. Selection politics must not undercut consideration. Puhl is an experienced prosecutor who has a lengthy, accessible record. The Judiciary Committee, which Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley chairs, has fully evaluated Puhl and conducted her hearing on June 21.

When introducing Puhl, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) glowingly praised her excellent qualifications and emphasized Puhl’s long record of public service. Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) similarly lauded Puhl’s lengthy experience in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Puhl testified about her work as a prosecutor and how she handled difficult legal issues. Puhl carefully answered senators’ questions, and they seemed satisfied.

The committee conducted a discussion and vote on July 14. The panel easily approved Puhl on a voice vote with no dissent. She deserved a prompt final debate and ballot. However, the Senate recessed on Sept. 29 to campaign without voting. If Republicans continue to resist when they return for a November lame duck session, her proponents must pursue cloture. Once Puhl reaches the floor, senators should conduct dignified and respectful debate and expeditiously vote.

President Obama recently tendered Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl for the Eighth Circuit. Because she is an experienced, moderate nominee and the court needs every jurist, the Senate must promptly confirm her. 

Carl Tobias is the Williams Chair in Law at the University of Richmond.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Chuck Grassley Heidi Heitkamp John Hoeven

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