When the Trump administration wanted to fill out court vacancies in the South, it turned to the Republican attorneys general in many of those states, tapping their talent to build the army of conservative judges GOP activists were hoping for.
More than 10 percent of President Trump’s court picks have come from the lawyers in those offices — and in particular from ranks of state solicitor generals, who represent their states in courtroom battles.
James Tierney, who served as attorney general of Maine from 1980 to 1990, said it’s a natural place to look, since those offices stockpiled conservative talent during the Obama administration. And given how much GOP-led states battled the Obama administration, those lawyers were involved in the big fights of the day.
“They come predisposed toward looking at national issues, and you see, AGs are involved in many national issues,” Mr. Tierney said.
No state filed more challenges to the Obama administration than Texas — and of the 11 nominees Mr. Trump has plucked from state attorneys general offices, Texas accounts for more than half.
Former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett, who is now on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, served as Texas’ deputy attorney general earlier in his career. James C. Ho, who Mr. Trump also tapped for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, previously served as the solicitor general of Texas.
And Andrew Stephen Oldham, currently a nominee for the 5th Circuit, worked as Texas’ deputy solicitor general prior to becoming general counsel for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott.
Jeffrey Carl Mateer and J. Campbell Barker have also both been selected for district court judgeships after working at the Texas attorney general’s office.
“The fact that we were so successful taking on the Department of Justice over and over and over, and organizing large cases with lots of states, kind of speaks for itself,” Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told The Washington Times.
Marge Baker, executive vice president for the liberal People For the American Way, said the reason Mr. Trump is making so many picks from Texas is because there was a backlog of vacancies. She blamed GOP senators for using Senate traditions to stymy President Obama’s picks there.
And she said the nominees Mr. Trump is making are outside the legal mainstream.
“We are seeing more conservative ideologues and nominees who are young. They understand these are lifetime appointments,” said Ms. Baker.
While states are a source for judicial picks, the federal Justice Department remains the biggest proving ground, said Curt Levey, president of the Committee for Justice.
“That’s where the smartest and most ambitious lawyers who are thinking about being a judge some day go, but second to that, they go to state AG offices,” Mr. Levey said.
Beyond judicial picks, Mr. Trump has also tapped Republican state officials for executive branch posts.
Scott Pruitt, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, served as Oklahoma’s attorney general for seven years.
Tom Johnson, who served as deputy solicitor general in West Virginia, was picked for the Federal Communications Commission’s general counsel, and Carlos G. Muniz, former deputy attorney general in Florida, is general counsel at the Department of Education.
Paul C. Ney’s confirmation is currently pending, but he was selected to be general counsel at the Defense Department. Mr. Ney has been chief deputy attorney general in Tennessee for roughly two years.