Leahy And Sanders Announce Merit Commission To Screen Candidates For Vermont’s Upcoming Federal Judicial Vacancy

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) Friday announced formation of a new Vermont Judicial Selection Commission to screen candidates for Vermont’s upcoming federal judicial vacancy.  On Jan. 15, U.S. District Court Judge William Sessions informed Leahy and President Obama that he will be taking senior status after 18 years on the federal bench in Vermont.

The District Court in Vermont is at full strength with two active judges currently serving, but Judge Sessions’ decision will soon create a vacancy.  Continuing a tradition of merit commissions to fill federal judicial vacancies that the late Sen. Robert Stafford (R-Vt.) and Leahy developed and used, and that have been used since then, Leahy is working with Sanders and consulting with Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) and the Vermont Bar Association on the current merit commission process, to find a highly qualified replacement.  This process was used most recently in 2009 after Judge J. Garvan Murtha announced his intention to take senior status.  After reviewing the commission’s work and consulting with the Vermont delegation, Leahy recommended Judge Christina Reiss to fill the vacancy.  President Obama accepted Leahy’s recommendation, and Reiss was eventually confirmed, becoming the first woman in Vermont to serve on the district court.  She later became chief judge in 2010.

The nine-member, nonpartisan panel consists of three commissioners named by Leahy, three by Sanders, and three by the Vermont Bar Association.  Rep. Welch will also have input during the selection process.

The commission will receive, evaluate and recommend several candidates for each federal judicial vacancy in Vermont as such vacancies occur.  By longstanding practice, the senior senator of the President’s party then recommends the final candidate for each judicial vacancy to the President.  Leahy is Vermont’s senior senator as well as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which first considers judicial nominations in the Senate.

Leahy said, “Through his years of service to Vermont and the nation, Judge Sessions has set a high standard for fairness and integrity.  We want to continue Vermont’s tradition of outstanding jurists who are well-grounded in our community.  Judicial selection commissions are not required and take some extra effort, but I have long believed that they work well in finding good candidates.”  Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and now also President Pro Tempore of the Senate, added:  “Our commission structure also sets a good example for other states.  It has worked well in Vermont, and I have seen it work well elsewhere.  I want to continue this tradition in Vermont to help ensure that our state has a full complement of highly qualified judges on the federal bench.  I thank our commissioners for donating their time, their knowledge, their insight and their patience in helping to make this possible.”

Sanders said, “Merit selection of judges is good for Vermont and good for the federal judiciary. The open and transparent commission process makes sure the most qualified people are considered for lifetime appointments to the bench. I appreciate that Senator Leahy has set a high standard for the judicial selection process in our state, a process that is a model for the rest of the country.”

Interested applicants can contact the Vermont Bar Association for details in applying for the upcoming vacancy (see details below).

Below is a list of the nine members of the Vermont Judicial Selection Commission and the Commission’s Executive Director:

Vermont Judicial Selection Commission

Following Judge Sessions announcement that he will go on senior status in June, a nine-person Judicial Selection Commission has been established to handle the vetting of applicants for the upcoming vacancy in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont.

The following persons were appointed to the Commission by Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and the Vermont Bar Association:

Senator Leahy:

            Chair -- Peter D. Van Oot – Downs Rachlin Martin PLLC, Lebanon, N.H.
            Jerome F. O’Neill – Gravel & Shea PC, Burlington, Vt.
            Hon. Marilyn R. Skoglund – Vermont Supreme Court, Montpelier, Vt.

Senator Sanders:

Tom Sherrer – Thomas Sherrer, PLLC, Burlington, Vt.
            John L. Franco Jr. – Law Offices of John L. Franco Jr., Burlington, Vt.
            Barbara W. Prine – Vermont Legal Aid, Inc./Disability Law Project, Burlington, Vt.

Vermont Bar Association:

            David A. Mickenberg – Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs & Smith, PLC, Burlington, Vt.
            Mary Kehoe – The Kehoe Law Firm, PC, Burlington, Vt.
            David F. Silver – Barr, Sternberg, Moss, Lawrence & Silver, PC, Bennington, Vt.

Robert M. Paolini, Executive Director of the Vermont Bar Association, is providing administrative support to the Judicial Selection Commission.

Any member in good standing of the Vermont Bar is eligible to apply for the United States District Court for the District of Vermont vacancy.  Application procedures and the applicant questionnaire will be available from:

            Judicial Selection Commission
            c/o The Vermont Bar Association
            Attn:  Robert M. Paolini, Executive Director
            35-37 Court Street
            P.O. Box 100
            Montpelier, Vt.  05601

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David Carle (Leahy): 202-224-3693

Michael Briggs (Sanders): 202-228-6492

Press Contact

Press Contact
David Carle: 202-224-3693