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Posts tagged as “jim risch”

Judicial architects

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Idaho may soon fill a critical job vacancy that opened when Edward Lodge announced in September 2014 his intent to “assume senior status” - more or less, semi-retire – the following July.

That would allow a deep breath of relief on the underpopulated Idaho federal bench, which long has sought more judicial help. The Obama White House and Idaho’s two Republican senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch (both lawyers by profession), have agreed on David Nye of Pocatello, a 6th district judge, to fill the job. Kudos all around.

Pause a moment on the 6th judicial district aspect. The 6th, which is on the state not federal level, is based in Pocatello and includes counties to its south and east. It is one of the smaller Idaho judicial districts, but it has outsized federal impact. One former judge from the 6th (from 1987 to 1995) is Lynn Winmill, who now is the chief federal district judge in Idaho. Another (from 1995-2007) is Randy Smith, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, who maintains an office in Pocatello.

Winmill and Smith have in common a political background running political party organizations. Winmill once chaired the Bannock County Democrats, and Smith once chaired the Idaho Republican Party. Still, you’d probably find most attorneys in Idaho agree that those backgrounds seem not to have interfered with their judicial work. As with Lodge, their reputation is of being good, fair judges.

The new federal nominee, Nye, worked for the same law firm, Merrill and Merrill, that Smith did before his move to the bench. He has far less visible political background than the two other judges, which may help in his selection now. And he’s gotten good marks for his judicial work. Crapo and Risch are asking the Senate to push his confirmation through.

Last week, Idaho Democratic Chair Bert Marley pointed out that the senators have at the same time refused even to consider another court appointment by the president, Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court. Garland, somewhat like Nye, seems to have not a lot in the way of political involvement in past years, and there’s been little to no argument against his merits. So, Marley asked, what gives?

Risch told McClatchy News the difference was between a lower-level judge and one on the high court. The district judge is “not involved in being an architect of the culture of our country, which is what a U.S. Supreme Court judge does. The U.S. Supreme Court is very, very political, just like Congress is, just like the president of the United States. People wring their hands and say, ‘Oh, that’s terrible, you shouldn’t bring politics into it.’ How do you not bring politics into it?”

The role of “architect of the culture” is a piece of Supreme Court job description I’ve never seen before (you won’t find it in the Constitution) and, as Marley said, seems to run directly into the critique of many Republicans who decry activist judges, most especially on the Supreme Court.

It also downplays the powerhouse role federal district judges often play. Supreme Courts, after all, hear a fraction of the cases they’re asked to review. District or circuit judges in effect decide a whole lot of law. Reviewing Winmill’s impact on Idaho in a book a last year, I wrote: “He ordered a delay in megaload shipments over Highway 12 and said the Forest Service had to take some responsibility for them. He killed state laws related to abortion on constitutional grounds. He ordered dissolution of the St. Luke’s acquisition of the Nampa-based Saltzer Medical Group, citing anti-trust laws (creating major implications for more medical mergers in the area; that case is still on appeal). He said the federal government has to reconsider if it has acted as thoroughly as it can to protect sage grouse before declaring the species endangered. He delivered a split decision on the protesting rights of Occupy Boise. He approved a state Republican Party push to “close” its primary election to registered Republicans only.”

How do you not bring politics into any of these things? The answer is, the best we can do at any level of court is to hire fair judges. Would Nye and Merrick be fair judges? That seems to be the relevant question.

Risch and the Middle East

Sometimes new jobs will throw a different light on people. For a political career going back decades, Idaho's Jim Risch has been involved with state issues, and the international scene just hasn't been part of what we've seen from him, publicly anyway. There wasn't much call.

Now, Risch is in the U.S. Senate and a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, which might not have seemed the most obvious choice. But he seems to be settling in, and his interchange at a committee meeting with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair shows a grasp of Middle East subtleties and comfort with international politics many Idahoans might not have suspected. (Risch's appearance comes toward the end of this C-SPAN program.)

A hat tip on this to Nathaniel Hoffman of the Boise Weekly, who was in Washington for the meeting (and appears himself, briefly, at the end of the clip), and has a few more comments on Risch's time in D.C.

Cooperative hardball politics

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All those who think Idaho Democratic Representative Walt Minnick is a dead man walking for the election in 2010, and all those who think the (Republican) rest of the Idaho congressional delegation is SOL what with the decisive Democratic takeover of Congress, listen up.

You need to pay attention to a string of three recent press releases. They carry a weight of meaning.

Here's the lead paragraph from one, dated January 6, from the of office of Republican Representative (2nd district) Mike Simpson, with co-contact information from Minnick's office: "Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick today introduced the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA). The bill settles ongoing disputes over how to manage public land in Central Idaho by creating wilderness, releasing wilderness study areas, allowing for federal land transfers and providing for economic relief to residents in Custer and Blaine counties."

The Republican and Democratic representatives jointly introducing a wilderness bill (which Simpson had been pushing, over the opposition of Minnick's Republican predecessor, for some years). Hmm.

Here's another one, also jointly released from the offices on Wednesday: "Idaho Congressmen Mike Simpson and Walt Minnick today voted to pass a measure that will ease financial burdens on thousands of Idaho families. The State Children Health Insurance program was reauthorized today by the U.S. House of Representatives. Children from hardworking, low- to middle-income Idaho families who do not qualify for Medicare would have access to health care under the S-CHIP bill."

Working together on a health/welfare issue. Hmm.

Now the third, out today, from the office of new Senator Jim Risch, Republican of Idaho, countering a lawsuit by environmental groups against a roadless area plan Risch worked on as governor. The third paragraph says this: "'Over the last several years, Idaho has been at the forefront of the collaborative, local-focused approach to management of public lands. The west needs more of that, and fewer lawsuits,' Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick said. 'Senator Risch’s carefully crafted roadless plan is yet another fine example of what can be done when leaders bring people to the table in an effort to find common ground, and I hope today’s news does not hamper future collaboration between sportsmen, business, leaders such as Governor Otter, Senator Risch, the rest of our delegation, and the many other people who care about Idaho’s public lands.'”

Here we have Minnick appearing favorably in a Risch press release, and Minnick offering some support for Risch on an environmental issue.

Hey, wait a minute: Where's all the partisan bashing? Didn't these guys go to D.C.? Don't they know how this stuff works?

Actually, they seem to have figured out, quickly, some significant things. (more…)