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Crapo, Risch say they’re interviewing both ‘men and women’ for judge, won’t say more

BOISE - Idaho Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo issued a statement Thursday saying they’re interviewing both “men and women” for a U.S. District Judge opening, and that the process is “ongoing,” but not saying whether or not they’ve actually interviewed any women, or anything else about their secret selection process. The Spokesman-Review reported on Tuesday that while Risch and Crapo wouldn’t comment, multiple sources say four finalists have been interviewed for the position - all men, including two state judges and two lawyers with GOP ties - while at least five prominent female Idaho attorneys, including the current U.S. Attorney for Idaho and a current U.S. magistrate judge - said they’d applied but not been interviewed. Idaho is the only district in the 9th Circuit, and one of just two in the nation, with no female federal district judge. Crapo said in his statement, “We both have legal backgrounds and are vetting the candidates appropriately to make the best recommendation for Idaho.” But other lawyers and experts said input from current practitioners in Idaho would benefit the process – and would more closely match not only the process that 20 states including Washington now follow, but the way Idaho handled its last selection of a federal district judge. “Transparency is an important value in these processes,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks federal judicial nominations. “I think it is helpful that the senators are lawyers, but the people who know best about who would be the finest federal judge are the federal court practitioners.” 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. Former U.S. Attorney for Idaho Betty Richardson said, “I think it’s silly to think that simply because they are members of the profession from which a judge will be chosen, they have some keener insight than the collective membership of the bar. A much wiser practice, and one that has been followed in numerous jurisdictions, is to set up an independent bipartisan panel to survey all of the attorneys who are familiar with the applicants, and to get an assessment from people familiar with those interested in serving. The fact that they have been less than transparent and seemingly very insular is a real disappointment.” Peg Dougherty, a Boise attorney and co-chair of the Judicial Recruitment Committee for Idaho Women Lawyers, said, “Yes, they are both lawyers. But they’re not practicing lawyers. … I think it would be valuable to reach out to some of the practitioners in Idaho who appear in federal court to help with this process. I also am concerned about their distance to Idaho - they live and work inside the beltway, so I’m concerned about their understanding of the people who are actively participating in the Idaho bar, and their ability to select the best candidate from Idaho practitioners.” She added, “Secrecy, I think, lends itself to a perception of unfairness.” Federal district judges are lifetime appointees; they are appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge announced last September that he’ll take senior status on July 3.
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