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Connecticut’s Judge Christopher Droney to retire, creating vacancy for President Trump to fill on Second Circuit Court of Appeals

Connecticut’s Judge Christopher Droney to retire, creating vacancy for President Trump to fill on Second Circuit Court of Appeals
Federal appeals Judge Christopher F. Droney.

Federal appeals Judge Christopher F. Droney disclosed Monday that he is retiring from active judicial service, a decision certain to focus attention on how President Trump, who has vowed to remake the federal judiciary, chooses a lawyer from Connecticut to fill a vacancy on one of the nation’s most influential courts.

Droney notified the judiciary by letter that he will assume senior status June 30 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. As a senior judge, Droney remains a member of the court, but with reduced responsibilities. His seat, one of two from Connecticut, will become vacant.

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In any circumstance, the competition for prestigious, life-time appointments to the federal courts is intense. But both interest and speculation will grow in coming months because of Trump’s promises – and by most accounts, his successes – in making judicial appointments designed to move the federal judiciary to the right.

Since his election, Trump has largely left the appointments of U.S. District Court Judges to state political interests. He has chosen instead to exercise his appointment powers at the federal circuit courts, such as the second, and the U.S. Supreme Court, where decisions typically have greater reach.

Half way through his first term, Trump has nominated – and the U.S. Senate’s Republican majority has confirmed - two justices to the Supreme Court, both considered conservative, and dozens of judges to the circuit courts.

Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor who writes frequently on judicial appointments, said Trump recently succeeded - with his narrow Senate majority - in pushing through sharply conservative circuit court nominees to the 9th Circuit in California and to the 2nd in New York, in spite of strong opposition from influential home-state, Democratic Senators Diane Feinstein and Chuck Schumer.

Among other things, the Senate’s GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee has given the Trump administration an assist by changing the rules regarding a parliamentary practice known as the blue slip, which allowed home state Senators to single-handedly kill the nomination of a judicial appointee from their state.

Connecticut U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, a judiciary member and sharp Trump critic, said – in the face of evidence to the contrary – he is not entirely persuaded the blue slip has been killed as a tool for those challenging circuit court nominations. He also promised to closely examine anyone Trump nominates to the second circuit

“The GOP leadership has run roughshod over long accepted practices,” Blumenthal said. “Trump is very aggressively trying to remake the image of the judiciary in the image of the far right fringe.”

Blumenthal, along with Connecticut’s other democratic U.S. Senator, Christopher Murphy, have appointed committees recently to screen federal judicial nominees. Blumenthal said they are likely to do so again in an effort to expand the pool of candidates seeking Droney’s seat.

The second circuit court of appeals has jurisdiction over and takes appeals from the federal courts in Connecticut, New York and Vermont. Its decisions in complex commercial matters arising in New York, and to a lesser degree Connecticut have made it one of the most important circuits of the 13 across the country.

Connecticut has seats for two active judges on the circuit court – Droney’s as well as that of Susan Carney. Both were appointed by President Barrack Obama in 2011. Droney served as U.S. Attorney and a federal district judge before his appointment. Carney, one of the relatively rare non jurists appointed, was Deputy General Counsel of Yale University.

Federal judicial vacancies usually attract wide interest among lawyers. There was little speculation Monday about who might be interested, because word of Droney’s decision had not yet spread among the bar.

Nominees to a Connecticut seat on the appeals court have in the past usually come from sitting Connecticut district court judges. But the sitting judges who would normally be considered for Droney’s seat – by age and experience - are Democrats, appointed by Democratic administrations.

Some observers were looking for conservative state court judges or law school professors. Other’s predicted the conservative Federalist Society would present the administration with a list of vetted candidates.

Droney is a former mayor of West Hartford and U.S. Attorney for Connecticut. He served as a U.S. District Court Judge before his appointment to the Second Circuit.

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