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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

How it happened the last time Idaho got a new federal district judge…

The last time Idaho got a new federal district judge, here’s how the selection process worked: The late U.S. District Judge Harold Ryan, who had served since 1981, took senior status on Dec. 30, 1992, and died of cancer on April 10, 1995. Then-Rep. Larry LaRocco, the only member of Idaho’s congressional delegation who was of the same party as Democratic President Bill Clinton, proposed the nomination of Lewiston attorney John Tait. In August of 1994, Clinton nominated Tait, but the nomination languished, with opposition from then-GOP Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne. Tait was one of 45 Clinton judicial nominees who weren’t confirmed by the Senate during Clinton’s presidency.

After LaRocco lost his re-election bid in 1995, Craig and Kempthorne got the Clinton Administration to withdraw the nomination, and turned instead to a bipartisan nominee review commission the two had set up under guidelines of the American Judicature Society. The nine-member panel, which included five Democrats and four Republicans, in recognition that the appointment would be made by a Democratic president, considered 38 applicants, narrowed the field to six, then circulated the names of three finalists: Then-state 6th District Judge B. Lynn Winmill; Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk, and U.S. Magistrate Larry Boyle of Boise.

Craig told the Senate that the panel was “an extremely well-qualified and respected bipartisan commission,” which included a retired chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court; a former U.S. Attorney; senior members of the bar from both parties; current members of the Idaho Judicial Council; and the chairs of the judiciary committees in the Idaho House and Senate.

“It was the unanimous decision of the commission that Judge B. Lynn Winmill is extremely well qualified for the position,” Craig told the Senate. Winmill’s selection was hailed by all sides, though his background as a Democrat was unquestioned – he was a former county Democratic Party chairman before he became a judge. Craig called him a “long-needed federal judge who is exceptionally well-qualified, honest, hard-working and a community leader,” and told senators, “Although he has an unquestionable Democratic credential, the Republican governor of Idaho also sends his full and unqualified support for this judge.” That was then-Gov. Phil Batt.

Kempthorne called Winmill “an outstanding nominee,” and told the Senate, “Judge Winmill is a judge Idaho and the nation need.” By the time Winmill was confirmed by the Senate in August of 1995, the judgeship had been vacant for two and a half years.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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