Second Circuit Judge Peter Hall’s decision to take senior status Thursday opens the door for President Joe Biden to potentially flip the circuit back to a Democratic-appointed majority.
Hall was appointed to the New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 2004 by George W. Bush. Republican appointees filled seven of the circuit’s 13 seats before Hall took senior status, a form of semi-retirement. If Biden appoints his successor, Democratic appointees could reclaim that majority.
The circuit was one that President Donald Trump flipped during his presidency.
Three judges on the Second Circuit have announced they’d take senior status since Biden was elected. The other two were Judge Robert A. Katzmann, who took senior status in January, and Judge Denny Chin, who will go senior in June. Both were appointed by Democrats. Biden would have to replace all three to flip the circuit.
“It’s a big deal because the Second Circuit is so important,” said Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond’s law school who follows judicial nominations. The circuit centered in the nation’s financial capital hears many cases involving banking and securities.
About 40 judges have announced they’d take senior status or retire since the election, adding to about 50 federal judicial vacancies that existed before the election. With a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate and no 60-vote threshold for judicial nominees, Biden has an opportunity to make an impact on the courts.
The Biden administration will have a rich pool of potential nominees to pick from in the district courts within the circuit, Tobias said. Potential nominees he identified, include trial judges J. Paul Oetken, Alison J. Nathan, Pamela K. Chen, and Jesse M. Furman.
Hall’s decision to go senior comes a series of rulings where he had been part of the panel, but was listed as “unavailable.” It isn’t clear if that is related to his decision to step back from his role as an active judge.