Trump fast-tracks judge for a promotion

Trump fast-tracks judge for a promotion
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The Trump administration is fast-tracking the judicial career of federal district court judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr.

The White House announced this week it’s nominating the former trial lawyer from South Carolina to be a judge on the Richmond, Va.-based federal court of appeals. 

The announcement comes less than two months after the Senate confirmed Quattlebaum to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina by a 69-28 vote. The move to the appeals court would be a step up. 

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Quattlebaum's nomination wasn’t particularly controversial, though Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (D-N.Y.) did complain about the lack of diversity among the Trump administration’s judicial selections.

Along with Quattlebaum, the administration nominated Julius “Jay” Richardson, a federal prosecutor in South Carolina, to the Richmond court.  

Richardson is best known for serving as lead prosecutor in the government’s case against Dylann Roof, who was sentenced to death last year for murdering nine black parishioners at a church in Charleston, S.C. 

While not rare for an administration to choose federal district court judges for appellate court openings, Quattlebaum’s quick elevation has raised eyebrows among court watchers. 

“This kind of quick ascension, is virtually unprecedented and highly unusual,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in an email to The Hill. 

“I can’t think of any judge who moved through an extensive confirmation process to the district court, only to proceed back through the nomination process one month later to jump to the appellate court.”  

Clarke said the move speaks volumes about the unusual nature of the Senate confirmation process in this era. 

“It’s almost as if there is an expectation that Judge Quattlebaum will merely be rubberstamped,” she said. 

Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond School of Law who specializes in federal judicial selection, said the nomination could signal the administration is concerned about the 2018 midterm elections and wants to fill the vacancy as quickly as possible in case there's a shift in Senate leadership.  

Since Quattlebaum has already gone through the committee’s vetting process once, Tobias said he’s likely to move more quickly through the confirmation process.

“The committee doesn’t have to do much,” he said. 

The White House pushed back on that claim.

A White House official said a number of candidates were interviewed for the 4th Circuit and Quattlebaum was the best candidate for the seat. 

“Elevating a district judge to the court of appeals is not rare,” the official said. “Two of the three appellate judges we nominated yesterday were district court judges first.” 

Richard Sullivan, who was appointed by George W. Bush in 2007 for his seat on the federal district court in the Southern District of New York, was nominated to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday. 

Quattlebaum was nominated to the district court on Aug. 3, 2017. The 4th Circuit has one seat that became vacant in January and a future vacancy starting Aug 31. 

The White House official said the vacancies on the 4th Circuit came open after Quattlebaum was nominated to the district court. 

Jim Lehman, managing partner of the law firm Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, where Quattlebaum previously worked, said he can’t imagine anyone more qualified for both the district and appellate courts.  

“I’m not an expert on the appointment process, but I think it’s a recognition of his unique skill set,” he said of Quattlebaum's quick rise. “He’s someone who is certainly, in my view, qualified at every level of the judiciary.”

The Department of Justice on Friday declined to comment on Quattlebaum’s latest nomination.