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Richard Honaker: Bush nominates ATLA member for district court

I'm quoted in today's Mother Jones about the nomination of trial lawyer Richard H. Honaker, the former president of the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association, to the District Court in Wyoming; the nomination was in March, and the Judiciary Committee hearing is tomorrow.

Being a trial lawyer doesn't inherently disqualify one from a lifetime appointment to the district court, but one hopes that the White House vetted Mr. Honaker for more than just Senator Craig Thomas's say-so before being nominated for the District Court of Wyoming, especially when the administration has been so slow to fill other open seats. It's not encouraging that Mr. Honaker wrote an article (titled "Tort Reform") in the April 2003 Wyoming Lawyer that repeated the fictional trial-lawyer talking point claiming that caps don't reduce insurance rates. Honaker has represented plaintiffs in fen-phen and Vioxx litigation; fen-phen litigation in particular has been riddled with fraud by the trial bar, and I wonder if a senator has the courage to ask at the February 12 hearing how Honaker's client submissions have performed in the fen-phen litigation audits.

On the plus-side, Honaker is being attacked by leftist groups for being a member of the Federalist Society; so long as Honaker subscribes to that organization's principle that "the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be," then what matters is his legal acumen and his willingness to adhere to binding precedent, rather than his personal opinions or the clients he represented. To that extent, the groups that are criticizing Honaker for his legislative record drastically misunderstand the role of the judiciary. As Victor Schwartz notes in the Mother Jones article,

"The Supreme Court has laid down the law on abortion. District court judges have no power to change that," Schwartz says. Opposing a judge because of his views on abortion, he says, "would be like objecting to a painter because he opposes Roe v. Wade. What matters whether he can paint a wall."

Meanwhile, Peter Keisler's nomination, first made over 590 days ago, has yet to be scheduled for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, despite his "well qualified" rating from the ABA. Senator Arlen Specter comments at the WSJ. The 51-49 Senate has confirmed only 6 Bush nominees to the appellate courts in the last thirteen months, compared to 15 Clinton nominees confirmed in the last two years of Clinton's term with a 55-45 Republican Senate, with a 16th Clinton choice renominated by President Bush to the Fourth Circuit in 2001.

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Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.