Conservatives who voted for Donald Trump based on his promises to restore the integrity of the judiciary had a point. If there was one compelling reason to support Trump, even for those who harbored serious concerns about his readiness for office, it was that a loss in the 2016 election would render the judicial branch of the federal government a taxpayer-funded subsidiary of the Democratic party for a generation or more. Where Hillary Clinton had her litmus tests, Trump promised to appoint judges who understood the limited role of federal judges in our constitutional system, who respected the text of the Constitution and federal statutes, and who would not let their personal policy preferences dictate the results of the cases before them.
Many conservatives voted for Trump in the hope that he would keep those promises, and in the first eight months of his administration, he has. Along with a sustained rollback of Obama-era regulations, Trump’s judicial appointments — with Justice Neil Gorsuch as the centerpiece — have been key successes for an often-troubled administration. Just this week, the Senate Judiciary Committee held hearings on two tremendously qualified nominees to courts of appeals in the Midwest: Michigan supreme-court justice and former University of Michigan law professor Joan Larsen, and Notre Dame law professor Amy Barrett. Both are former clerks to Justice Antonin Scalia who will prove to be judicial conservatives. Larsen and Barrett are both names to remember, as both are likely to be short-listers for a future Supreme Court vacancy.
Katsas then spent a decade in private practice for a prestigious law firm in Washington, D.C., before joining the Justice Department in the early days of the George W. Bush administration. There, Greg oversaw the appellate section of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, where he argued dozens of the most challenging and important appeals facing the Bush administration — cases involving the defense of the homeland in the aftermath of September 11, challenges to the president’s prosecution of the war on terrorism, and the federal ban on partial-birth abortion, and many more cases involving critical constitutional principles. Katsas served the entire eight years in the Bush administration, eventually being appointed as assistant attorney general in charge of the Civil Division.
In both government and private practice, Katsas has argued cases before the Supreme Court — he was one of the lawyers who argued the landmark challenge to Obamacare in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius — and in every U.S. court of appeals. In all, he has argued more than 75 appeals.
But apart from qualifications, Katsas has a temperament and work ethic that will make him a top-notch judge. Quite simply, nobody worked harder than Katsas at the Justice Department. I certainly didn’t; he was there when I got to work and at his desk when I headed home. Every significant brief filed by the Civil Division in the courts of appeals, and there were a lot of them, bore his stamp. Over the years, I’ve told many a lawyer that there was no one better on the legal briefs — in both writing and legal analysis — than Katsas. And that is no faint praise, given that I have worked with some of the best lawyers of my generation.
A Judge Katsas would have a consistent judicial philosophy, one in line with Trump’s promises.
Most important, a Judge Katsas would have a consistent judicial philosophy, one in line with Trump’s promises. Katsas understands that the courts’ role is a simple one — to decide cases, not to dictate policy. Like Justice Gorsuch, with whom he worked closely at the Department of Justice, Katsas understands the critical role that constitutional and statutory text play in deciding those cases. And he recognizes the importance of the original understanding of the founders in interpreting that text. Judge Katsas will be a welcome addition to a court that was packed by with liberal jurists by President Obama.
A modest, but brilliant and experienced nominee. A Trump home run.
— Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor of National Review. He was a senior lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department and White House.