On February 25, 2016, President Barack Obama appointed United States District Court Judge Lucy Haeran Koh for a judicial emergency vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The jurist has served professionally for more than six years in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, ably resolving major litigation. Thus, White House efforts to confirm her were unsurprising. Nevertheless, 2016 is a presidential election year when delay infuses many court appointments. That conundrum was exacerbated because the United States Senate Republican majority refused to even consider United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland, the experienced, moderate candidate, whom President Obama nominated to replace Justice Antonin Scalia. Because Judge Koh is an exceptional, consensus nominee—and the Ninth Circuit must have its entire judicial complement to resolve promptly, inexpensively, and equitably the nation’s largest appellate docket—her confirmation process merits scrutiny.
This piece analyzes Koh’s impressive record, judicial selection under President Obama, and the Ninth Circuit’s present circumstances. The paper concludes that Judge Koh is a highly accomplished, mainstream candidate and the appellate court desperately needs all twenty-nine of its members. Republican senators, however, did not cooperate, particularly after they had captured an upper chamber majority in the 114th Congress, a situation that this presidential election year significantly aggravates. The last section, therefore, proffers recommendations for Judge Koh’s approval.