BOISE – Idaho’s two U.S. senators insisted Thursday they are interviewing both “men and women” for a federal judicial appointment.
The announcement from Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo came two days after The Spokesman-Review reported that just four finalists – all men, including two state judges and two lawyers with GOP ties – have been interviewed during the highly secretive process. At least five prominent female Idaho attorneys, including the current U.S. attorney and a U.S. magistrate, have applied for the lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court bench but have not been interviewed.
The senators said the process is “ongoing” but did not indicate whether they’ve actually interviewed any women or explain anything else about their selection process.
Idaho is the only district in the 9th Circuit, and one of just two in the nation, with no female federal district judges. Idaho is one of three states with two U.S. district judges.
“We both have legal backgrounds and are vetting the candidates appropriately to make the best recommendation for Idaho,” Crapo said in his statement.
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 a wiser judge selection process would include the creation of an independent bipartisan panel to survey attorneys familiar with the applicants.
“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,” Richardson said. “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, noted that Crapo and Risch are not practicing lawyers and said they should reach out to attorneys who currently work in the federal system.
“I also am concerned about their distance to Idaho,” Dougherty said. “ 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 fall he’ll take senior status July 3.
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