Pittsburgh judge Hardiman on Trump's short list for Supreme Court
January 24, 2017 9:23 PM
Judge Thomas Hardiman, right, with Supreme Court Justice at an event in 2013 at Duquesne University.
Cliff Owen/Associated Press
Judge Thomas Hardiman, federal judge on the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pittsburgh, moderates a panel discussion during the Federalist Society's National Lawyers Convention in Washington in November.
Cliff Owen/Associated Press
Judge William Pryor.
10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals
Judge Neil Gorsuch.
By Paula Reed Ward and Tracie Mauriello / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Fox Chapel resident and 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Thomas M. Hardiman is among three finalists for the vacant seat on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Judge Hardiman, 51, joins 10th U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch and 11th U.S. Circuit Judge Bill Pryor on President Donald Trump’s short list to fill the position left vacant by the death of Justice Antonin Scalia in February.
The president has said he will announce his nominee next week. Judge Hardiman has already had a sit-down meeting with him.
Those who have followed Judge Hardiman’s career are not surprised by the president’s interest in him, describing him as principled, well-prepared and with a demeanor and temperament that are excellent.
“He has been regarded as an up-and-coming judge,” said Rob Byer, who has argued before Judge Hardiman on the 3rd Circuit three times.
In 2003, at age 37, Judge Hardiman was nominated by President George W. Bush to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Just four years later, he was elevated to the Circuit Court, which handles cases from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and the Virgin Islands.
Former U.S. District Judge Robert Cindrich hired Judge Hardiman to join his law firm as a young lawyer new to Pittsburgh and witnessed his ascension to the federal bench.
“He was a superb District Court judge. He has people skills,” Mr. Cindrich said. “Everybody was treated fairly, with respect.”
A Notre Dame graduate who attended Georgetown University for law school, Judge Hardiman’s confirmation would diversify the academic makeup of the court, which has been criticized as being a cloistered group of out-of-touch Ivy Leaguers.
He’s a practicing judge, not an academic, like Justice Scalia, who taught at the University of Virginia and University of Chicago law schools before becoming a judge on the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1982 and a Supreme Court justice in 1986.
“Justice Scalia had been thinking in an academic way about some of the larger issues raised by cases,” said Arthur Hellman, a professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh. “Judge Hardiman has been a lawyer and a judge, so that gives him an entirely different perspective. He hasn’t been looking at the big picture: ‘What would I do if I were interpreting constitutional law?’ ”
He’s more moderate than some of the other judges Mr. Trump had considered.
“He’s conservative, but not wildly so. That makes him confirmable,” Mr. Hellman said. “I’m confident Judge Hardiman would be wonderful at the confirmation hearing. It would be very, very difficult for senators to vote against him.”
University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias, who tracks court vacancies, said Judge Hardiman hasn’t heard enough high-profile cases for opponents to build strong arguments against him.
Among his cases that have garnered attention, Judge Hardiman upheld a jail’s right to conduct strip searches, even for suspects detained for traffic offenses, and he wrote a dissent in 2013 arguing against a majority opinion that reversed a school’s ban on bracelets for breast-cancer awareness that said, “I [heart] boobies.”
“In our cases, he’s tended to be deferential to the government,” said Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
Mr. Byer, who also has participated in panel events with Judge Hardiman, said the judge does not monopolize an argument but asks good, perceptive questions.
“He’s not afraid to disagree with his colleagues,” he said.
But at the same time, added Howard Bashman, another appellate attorney who argued the NFL concussion settlement issue before him, Judge Hardiman is easy to get along with and willing to build consensus.
“That’s important at the Supreme Court.”
Mr. Bashman praised Judge Hardiman’s opinion writing but said he suspects that Judge Gorsuch, whose mother was director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Ronald Reagan, is the more likely nominee.
Judge Hardiman has been known to attract the highest-quality law clerks — a sign of his reputation as a jurist, Mr. Byer said.
Richard Heppner Jr., who went to Harvard Law, served as one of four law clerks for Judge Hardiman in 2010. The one-year appointment, he said, was a great experience.
“Every day, there was thoughtful, careful attention to the law and arguments,” he said.
The judge, he continued, was conscientious and strove to get the law right, while adhering to the Constitution and precedent.
Although Judge Hardiman tends toward conservative values, Mr. Heppner said, those don’t color his work on the court.
“I don’t think he really has set ideas about particular hot-button issues that would lead him to pre-judge a case that came before him,” he said.
Mr. Cindrich, a Democrat, said Judge Hardiman’s conservative values include a belief in limited governmental intrusion into private life.
“His conservatism is principled, logical, rational.”
One of the things Mr. Heppner remembers most fondly of his time with Judge Hardiman is how he would ask his law clerks to run the Pittsburgh Marathon relay race with him each year. Mr. Heppner wasn’t a runner but did it anyway and has returned in the years after, like many of his colleagues.
“It’s communal and a nice testament to how people think highly of him,” he said.
Judge Hardiman sits on the Third Circuit with the president’s sister, Judge Maryanne Trump Barry, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1999. She assumed senior status in 2011.
He is married to the former Lori Zappala, a member of the prominent Democratic family that includes Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. and former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stephen A. Zappala.
Mr. Bashman said he finds it interesting that a judge whose family has such strong Democratic ties would be among President Trump’s finalists.
He described Judge Hardiman as well-grounded. He grew up in Waltham, Mass., where his father ran a cab and school transportation company. He was the first in his family to graduate from college and earned money in the summers driving for his father.
“He has this common-man background, and that will lend itself to helping him connect with the Senate, were he to be the one picked,” Mr. Bashman said.
Judge Hardiman and his wife have three children, Kate, 22, a senior at Notre Dame, Matthew 19, a freshman at Notre Dame, and Marissa, 16, a high school sophomore.
Paula Reed Ward: email@example.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard. Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: firstname.lastname@example.org, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. Staff writer Chris Potter contributed.
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