Yarmuth Seen as Key Player in Recommending Kentucky Judges

Nov 13, 2012

As the only Democrat who will be left in Kentucky's congressional delegation, U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth is expected to play a big role in recommending nominations for two federal judgeships in Kentucky, according to attorneys familiar with the process.

The president normally consults with the senior senator of his party before making a nomination, but both of Kentucky's U.S. senators are Republicans. Kentucky's other Democratic congressman, Ben Chandler, lost his re-election bid last week to Republican Andy Barr.

"It is rare to have only one person from the president's party," Louisville attorney Scott C. Cox, a former federal prosecutor and a Republican, told The Courier-Journal. "It will be interesting to see how Yarmuth handles it."

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell's press secretary, Robert Steurer, said recently that the senator will "take an active role" in reviewing any nominations, "consistent with the advice and consent duty of the United States Senate."

Yarmuth's spokesman, Stephen George, said, "There is nothing to report on nominations."

The Louisville-area congressman will have a hand in recommending replacements for U.S. District Judge Thomas B. Russell of Paducah and Judge Jennifer Coffman of Lexington, who sits in both the Eastern and Western districts.

Russell said a year ago that he was taking senior status.

Coffman is retiring from the bench completely effective Jan. 8, her 65th birthday, she said Friday. She said she expects to work as a private mediator and may teach classes at the University of Kentucky law school.

Federal judges are paid $174,000 a year for life; they may either retire or take a part-time caseload when they turn 65.

The confirmation process ground to a halt this year as Senate Republicans waited to see who would win the White House.

Nationally, there are 65 District Court judgeships that are vacant, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Twenty-seven nominees are pending confirmation in committee and 15 on the Senate floor.

Pending nominations with bipartisan support have traditionally been confirmed during the lame-duck session, but the others will probably not be considered until next year, the committee says.