Trump, Durbin, Duckworth deal yields 1st lesbian judicial nominee


When it comes to judicial appointments, the Republican Trump White House and the Democratic Illinois senators, Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, work together to forge consensus on mutually agreeable nominees. | Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Monday re-nominated Martha Pacold, Mary Rowland and Steven Seeger to be federal district court judges in Chicago, noteworthy because:

•Rowland, a federal magistrate judge in Chicago, is the first openly lesbian in the nation Trump has nominated to be a federal judge, according to Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who studies and writes about judicial selections.

Said Rowland at her August Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing, “I met my wife Julie Justicz over 30 years ago at the University of Chicago Law school; we have been in love ever since.”

•Pacold, if confirmed, would be the first female Asian American on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, according to Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill. Pacold’s father is from the Czech Republic and her mother is from Indonesia. She is one of a dozen Asian Americans Trump tapped for district court spots, Tobias said.

•The nominations represent an oasis of collegiality in these otherwise deeply partisan acrimonious times. When it comes to judicial appointments, the Republican Trump White House and the Democratic Illinois senators, Dick Durbin and Duckworth, work together to forge consensus on mutually agreeable nominees.

The White House has an incentive to cooperate because home state senators wield, by custom, effective veto power over district court nominees.

“It’s a great model for the nation,” Tobias told me. “If other states would follow Illinois’ lead, they could fill their vacancies … without all the rancor.”

Pacold, Rowland and Seeger were first nominated by Trump on June 7, 2018. They sailed through their Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Aug. 22, 2018. They never got a confirmation vote for reasons that have nothing to do with them. Because their nominations expired last January, at the end of the 115th Congress, they needed to be re-nominated.

They were victims of a bottleneck created because every nominee could take up to 30 hours of floor time before a final vote – and there is only so much floor time.

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell jammed through a rules change — opposed by the Democratic senators in no hurry to confirm Trump judges — cutting the 30 hours to two. That will allow the GOP Senate to confirm Trump judges much faster.

At the August confirmation hearing for the three, Durbin said, “In Illinois we have a long-standing system of selecting federal district court judges from both political parties. We also have a tradition of using expert screening committees to review the candidates.

“…Our processes has resulted in the selection of today’s trio of Northern District nominees who have the support not only of Senator Duckworth, myself, but of the White House, that’s the way the process is supposed to work and I thank the White House for working with us on this package of nominees.”

The consultative, cordial and compromise process in Illinois yielded for the Northern District two nominees who worked for conservative judges tapped by Republican presidents and a third nominee who supports Democratic candidates and causes.

Pacold is a former law clerk for conservative Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. She is currently in the Trump administration, serving as the deputy general counsel at the Treasury Department. She is a former partner at the Chicago law firm of Bartlit Beck Herman Palenchar & Scott.

She is a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School; her B.A. is from Indiana University.

Seeger is a former law clerk for conservative U.S. Court of Appeals Judge David Sentelle. He is the senior trial counsel in the Chicago Regional Office of the Securities and Exchange Commissions, serving since 2010. Before that, he was a partner at Kirkland & Ellis.

He earned his undergraduate degree at Wheaton College and his law degree from the University of Michigan.

Rowland, a U.S. Magistrate judge since 2012, volunteered for Barack Obama on Election Day in 2008 as a legal observer at a polling place and in 1984 worked as an organizer on Carl Levin’s Democratic Senate campaign, according to her questionnaire submitted to the Judiciary Committee.

Before the bench, Rowland was a partner at the law firm of Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym. Her undergraduate degree is from the University of Michigan; her J.D. is from the University of Chicago Law School.

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