About That Arizona Judge

Many of you who have been following the saga of the judicial review of the new Arizona abortion ban have probably noticed that the federal district judge who upheld the law got his lifetime appointment from Bill Clinton. “Wonder what’s up with that?” I asked myself. Fortunately, TNR’s Molly Redden has some answers:

When Clinton nominated Teilborg to the federal bench in 2000, Arizona’s courts were facing a daunting judicial backlog. To ameliorate it, Congress created three new U.S. District Court positions, and Sen. Jon Kyl recommended Teilborg to fill one of them. At the time, Teilborg was a Phoenix trial lawyer and longtime friend of Kyl’s who had given the senator $13,150 up to that time in campaign donations.

Immediately, Democrats in the GOP-controlled Senate blocked Teilborg’s confirmation and that of three others, in retaliation for Republicans’ refusal to hold confirmation hearings on Clinton’s many other judicial nominates—a hefty portion of which were minority or female candidates. Republicans made red-faced speeches about Tom Daschle’s dilatory tactics; Democrats gladly returned fire.

But in the stalemate, no one bothered to learn anything about the nominees who would, eventually, become judges. When Teilborg’s confirmation hearing inevitably came to pass, Democrats used it as an opportunity to issue furious sermons about Republican obstructionism, rather than examine the nominee. By the time Senate voted, there had been virtually no talk of his qualifications or objectives. One news account called the vote “an afterthought,” and Sen. Pat Leahy noted that Teilborg and three fellow nominees had “moved very, very, very rapidly.” He was confirmed in a vote of 95-0, becoming one of the very last nominees to join the federal bench in the Clinton era.

Years later, Sen. Pat Leahy would cite his confirmation as an act of Democratic cooperation. In a 2008 letter addressing Republican complaints about blocked judicial nominees, Leahy wrote, “Senator Kyl should recall that I cooperated with him over the years to confirm a number of judges in Arizona. … Among the last judges confirmed in 2000 was his good friend James Teilborg.”

So while Tielborg was indeed appointed by Clinton, he was widely regarded as a Republican pick who ascended to the bench amidst complex partisan maneuverings. Redden notes that he once sided with the famous right-wing attorney James Bopp to strike down a Montana effort to limit campaign contributions by an anti-choice group, but that may just reflect the kind of leanings you’d generally expect from a good friend of John Kyl’s.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.