Congress Blog

Fill the Eastern District of Virginia 

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The Senate should promptly confirm Assistant U.S. Attorney Patricia Tolliver Giles and Magistrate Judge Michael Nachmanoff for the Eastern District of Virginia. Giles and Nachmanoff, whom President Joe Biden nominated in July, are highly experienced, mainstream nominees. Giles has served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney since 2003, and Nachmanoff has served as a magistrate judge since 2015 and was the chief federal public defender for eight years before that. The judgeship that Giles would fill has been vacant for 17 months, while the position that Nachmanoff would fill has been open for four. The Senate must swiftly confirm Giles and Nachmanoff, because they are very experienced, well qualified nominees and the Eastern District must have all of its judges to retain the court's reputation for speedily resolving cases, which has earned it the moniker "Rocket Docket."

The opening that Giles would fill arose on May 1, 2020 when Judge Liam O'Grady assumed senior status, and the vacancy that Nachmanoff will fill resulted on June 1, 2021 when Judge Anthony Trenga assumed senior status. Virginia Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine rather expeditiously instituted a process to suggest accomplished, moderate candidates for Biden's consideration. After reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, they recommended Giles and Nachmanoff in April. Biden sent their nominations to the Senate on July 13.

Giles and Nachmanoff are intelligent, industrious, ethical, and independent and they possess balanced temperament, while both nominees earned the ABA's highest rating: well qualified. Each individual displayed those attributes when testifying in a July 28 Judiciary Committee hearing. Indeed, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel ranking member, commended the Democratic president and senators for nominating such highly qualified, experienced candidates. The other GOP committee members asked few probing questions, and the senators appeared satisfied with the nominees' responses.

At a Sept. 23 meeting, the senators discussed the nominees. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chair, lauded Giles' deep knowledge, remarking that she had tried nearly two dozen cases to verdict. Grassley agreed about Giles' prosecutorial experience and voted for her and seemingly praised Nachmanoff's long public service. However, Grassley apparently voted against Nachmanoff, because he intimated that the nominee had exhibited questionable judgement by seeking advice from the "liberal advocacy group" Demand Justice. The committee approved Giles 17-5 and Nachmanoff 15-9.

Several reasons show why the Senate must expeditiously confirm Giles and Nachmanoff. First, the seat that Giles would fill has remained open for more than a year and the post that Nachmanoff will fill has been vacant for four months. Second, five months ago, the Virginia senators recommended Giles and Nachmanoff to Biden. Requiring candidates to wait prolonged times makes them place careers and lives on hold. Third, the openings have required that Judges O'Grady and Trenga carry substantial caseloads, even though most senior judges have smaller dockets.

The Senate must promptly vote on Giles and Nachmanoff to fill the Eastern District of Virginia vacancies. The nominees' strong records mean they have earned expeditious confirmation, while their abilities will help the court maintain its well deserved reputation as the Rocket Docket. 

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

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