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Application season opens for a Minnesota federal judgeship

U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum has notified President Obama that this fall he will be taking “senior status,” a part-time role on the bench.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge James Rosenbaum, who has been one of Minnesota’s federal judges since 1984, formally notified President Obama that he will be taking what the federal judges call “senior status” effective October 26. (Senior status means a federal judge remains on full salary and can take as many or as few cases as he likes. Rosenbaum plans to work full-time. But when a judge takes senior status, it creates an opening for a new non-ssenior judge.)

This means that President Obama will begin the process of choosing a lawyer to nominate for a highly-sought lifetime appointment as a federal judge. By tradition, the President in such cases is guided by the recommendations of the senator(s?) from the affected state, if they are from the president’s own party.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, if she follows the precedent she set when recommending Todd Jones to Obama for appointment as Minnesota’s U.S. attorney earlier this year, will probably create an advisory committee that will screen candidates and make a recommendation to Klobuchar, who will make a recommendation to Obama.

If Al Franken takes office before this process is completed, he will also play a role. As the junior senator, it would perhaps be the smaller role, but it seems likely that the final choice will be agreeable to both Democrats. I’m told, by the way, that Franken (if and when he gets to the Senate) will very likely sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee. Since Judiciary also screens the nominees for judgeships and holds their confirmation hearings, this might elevate Franken’s role somewhat.

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Rosenbaum, by the way, is, or at least was, a Republican, appointed by Ronald Reagan no less. But that didn’t shield him from a shameful hazing by the House Judiciary Committee in 2003, when he had the temerity to testify to that committee against a proposal for federal sentencing guidelines that would have reinstated a mandatory 10-year prison sentence for first-time federal drug offenders.

The 10-year mandatory minimum was apparently considered by the Republican majority on Judiciary a matter of great national urgency and they were greatly aggrieved to have a supposed Republican publicly tell them he thought it was a lousy idea. They were free, of course, to just ignore his advice, but went further, vilifying him, seeking to issue a supbpoena for all sentencing records from Rosenbaum’s cases in apparent hopes of showing him to be a sentence guidelines scofflaw, and talking of disciplinary actions against him, not even ruling out an effort to impeach him (although it never came anywhere near that).

No less a figure than Chief Justice William Rehnquist told the committee to back off and respect the independence of the judiciary. The affair blew over and Rosenbaum served out his judicial career with distinction. Attorney Doug Kelley wrote up the whole imbroglio (or do I mean fandango?) for Bench and Bar of Minnesota if you want to review this shameful attempt at congressional intimidation of the judicial branch.