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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Obama names new Idaho judge, David Nye

Idaho Judge David Nye was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, July 12, 2017, to be the state’s next federal district judge. (Doug Lindley / Idaho State Journal)

BOISE – Idaho finally has a new federal district judge nominee with the announcement Tuesday from the White House that President Barack Obama has chosen Idaho 6th District Judge David Nye.

Idaho GOP Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch said they “enthusiastically seek the consent of the full Senate for confirmation” of Nye as the state’s next federal judge.

“I am pleased to nominate Judge Nye to serve on the United States District Court bench,” Obama said in a White House news release. “I am confident he will serve the American people with distinction.”

Nye was born in San Jose, California, and moved to Salt Lake City before high school. After completing college and law school 30 years ago, he moved to Idaho. He and his wife, Katre, have eight children.

Idaho has been down to only one U.S. district judge since July, when longtime Judge Edward Lodge took senior status and reduced his caseload to 75 percent; he had announced his plans to do so in September 2014.

That left only U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill in the District of Idaho. The federal court system declared a “judicial emergency” because of the shortage of judges, and Idaho began tapping out-of-state judges to hear Idaho cases.

Federal district judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. But under current Senate practices, the two home-state senators have a virtual veto over any White House nominee, forcing them to work together with the White House.

Crapo and Risch, both of whom are lawyers, held a lengthy and secretive process in which they personally interviewed an array of applicants. After several were vetted and then eliminated, they contacted Nye in January.

“It was a call from both of the senators,” Nye said.

Nye, who was an attorney with the firm Merrill & Merrill in Pocatello for 20 years, was appointed a district judge by Gov. Butch Otter in 2007 and elected without opposition in 2014. He oversees a successful diversionary felony drug court in Pocatello and has been active in helping train new Idaho judges. Nye holds bachelor’s and law degrees from Brigham Young University.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Nye specialized in insurance law and medical malpractice. When he became a district judge, however, he began hearing all kinds of cases.

“There was a very steep learning curve, but it wasn’t a long learning curve,” Nye said. “I’m hoping it will be the same way moving to the federal bench. There’ll be a lot to learn first, I know that – assuming I get there.”

Senate confirmation of federal judges has been bogged down amid Washington, D.C., politics in recent years, and the Senate and White House are currently in the midst of a major spat over the Senate’s refusal to hold hearings on Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court. But Crapo and Risch expressed optimism about getting the Idaho nominee confirmed.

“As I have told the president, I am committed to working diligently and enthusiastically to obtain the consent of the Senate for Judge Nye’s confirmation,” Crapo said.

James Ruchti, a Pocatello attorney and a board member of the Idaho Trial Lawyers Association, said it’s important for a federal judge to be an experienced litigator.

“He’s well-liked and he treats people with respect,” Ruchti said. “He’s practiced and litigated for, boy, decades, and I think he’s tried a case in just about every courthouse in southeast Idaho. That just tells you the volume of cases he’s tried.”

According to multiple sources, at least two previous candidates were suggested to the Obama administration by the two senators. One was Boise attorney Erika Malmen, 41, who had failed to make the short list when she applied through a merit process for a state judgeship last year and had limited courtroom experience. The other was Idaho 5th District Judge Richard Bevan, 56, whose potential nomination was lauded by Idaho lawyers from both parties. Bevan reportedly had a White House interview but then was dropped from consideration.

Idaho is the only state in the 9th Circuit that has never had a woman as U.S. district judge; it’s one of just two in the nation.

Last spring, after an outcry from female members of the Idaho Bar when news surfaced that the two senators had interviewed only four men for the lifetime appointment, Crapo and Risch publicly announced they were interviewing men and women, and several prominent female Idaho attorneys were subsequently interviewed.

“Judge Nye may be perfectly qualified. But it is disappointing that they did not choose from such a broad group of very talented women in our state,” said Peg Dougherty, a Boise attorney who’s active in recruiting female lawyers to apply for judgeships. “It just seems to me that they had an opportunity to move Idaho out of the ranks of zero.”

Risch called the process long and difficult.

“All applicants were considered and several vetted at various levels,” Risch said in a statement. “The parties worked in good faith to reach an agreement. I am happy that we have settled on a sound and principled jurist who will be an outstanding judge.”

Winmill said he knows Nye personally, though the two haven’t interacted in court.

“He is a wonderful human being; he’s a very thoughtful person,” Winmill said. “It’ll be great to have somebody on the court – we desperately need the help.”