President Bush chose to fill two high-level positions yesterday with federal judges who had given him campaign contributions while under consideration for their judgeships.
Bush nominated Judge Gene Pratter, of Pennsylvania, to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a level just below the U.S. Supreme Court. Pratter, who was featured in the CIR report, “Money Trails to the Federal Bench,” gave $2,000 to Bush in 2003, after interviewing with the White House for her judgeship.
Bush also picked Judge Mark Filip, of Illinois, to be deputy attorney general, the No. 2 spot in the Justice Department. Filip gave Bush $2,000 in 2003, after the president nominated him for his judgeship, as earlier reported by CIR.
There are no laws against political contributions by a judicial candidate, but some ethics experts and federal judges say that it is inappropriate.
Pratter also gave $1,500 to Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) in 2003, around the time she interviewed for her district judgeship with Specter’s bipartisan selection panel.
To fill Pratter’s spot on the federal district court, Bush nominated an attorney who also gave money to Sen. Specter while reportedly being pushed for a judgeship by the senator.
Carolyn P. Short gave Specter $2,300 on March 29, 2007, though he is not up for reelection until 2010. It was Short’s first federal donation since 1998, when she gave to a Democrat, according to government records. The Legal Intelligencer reported that Specter was advocating for a Short judgeship as early as fall 2006. Short served as general counsel to the Senate Judiciary Committee during 2005 and 2006 at Specter’s request. Specter is currently the ranking Republican on the committee, which reviews Bush’s nominations. Short did not respond to a call and email requesting comment.
In a 2006 interview with CIR, Specter said political donations are “not a factor” in who gets recommended for judgeships. He said that once an individual becomes a “prospect” for a judgeship, that person should not continue to make contributions. When informed that a few Pennsylvania judges had given donations after that point, Specter said, “If I had known about it, I would have returned their contributions. I don’t want anybody to think that it's relevant.”
To read the comments of federal judges on the issue of campaign contributions by judicial candidates, click here.