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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Eye On Boise

With Idaho now down to just one U.S. district judge, Bieter has submitted three names to White House, senators remain mum

Five days after U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge took senior status on July 3, there’s still no word on a possible replacement. But rumor has it that Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have submitted four names for consideration to the White House, and separately, Boise Mayor Dave Bieter’s office confirms that Bieter has submitted three names for consideration.

The replacement judge will be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Crapo and Risch have been conducting a secret screening process for possible nominees to recommend, and have said little about it. Today, Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s press secretary, said in an email, “The process is proceeding properly, but we are not at liberty to release details at this point.”

Bieter’s office had no comment beyond confirming that he had submitted three names; as the mayor of the state’s largest city, he’s among Idaho’s highest-ranking elected officials who is of the same party as the president, a Democrat, who will select the nominee.

The process is being closely watched in Idaho, in part because Idaho is one of just three states with only two full-time U.S. district judges; now, with Lodge’s retirement, it has just one, Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill. The state hasn’t gotten an additional judgeship in 60 years, though its caseloads have soared. Just last year, Crapo and Risch introduced legislation calling for a third judgeship for Idaho, but it hasn’t passed. At that time, Risch said, “It is unfair that Idaho is at such a great disadvantage compared to other states of our size. A third judgeship would help in the administration of efficient and effective justice in our state.”

Idaho also is the only state in the 9th Circuit that’s never had a woman U.S. district judge, and one of just two in the nation. When word spread around the state in April that Crapo and Risch had interviewed only four men for the post, the resulting outcry prompted the two to break their silence with a statement, in which they said, “Men and women, sitting judges and attorneys, are being interviewed. The process is ongoing.” They also repeated that they intend their process to be entirely confidential, and that the two senators, both attorneys, were reviewing the potential nominee recommendations personally.

An inquiry today to the White House press office hasn’t yet brought any response.

The last time Idaho got a new federal district judge, in 1995, then-Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, both Republicans, convened a bipartisan commission, including five Democrats and four Republicans, to vet 38 candidates and make recommendations on a new federal judge. It included Idaho attorneys from both parties, a former U.S. Attorney for Idaho, and the chairs of the House and Senate judiciary committees. The three finalists were then-state 6th District Judge B. Lynn Winmill; Idaho Attorney General Larry EchoHawk; and U.S. Magistrate Judge Larry Boyle of Boise.

Winmill was the commission’s unanimous choice; he was nominated by then-President Bill Clinton and confirmed in late 1995 amid praise from both Craig and Kempthorne.

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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