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Brookings Examines John Roberts Appointments to FISA Court

Russell Wheeler: “Among his non-judicial duties, the Chief Justice of the United States selects sitting federal judges to serve on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in addition to their regular judicial duties. A recent New York Times article reported that ten of the court’s 11 current  judges, all selected by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., were appointed to the bench by Republican presidents, as were 86 percent of all Roberts’ designees to the court. Critics say that a FISA court dominated by Republican appointees is likely to be overly sympathetic to government requests. This controversy has awakened a broader debate about the authority that has accumulated in the office of chief justice. In this brief article, I report a more nuanced party-of-appointing-president make-up of another group of Roberts’ appointees—the chairs of the committees of the United States Judicial Conference. Examining those appointments is important because the work of the Conference is consequential and because the appointments shed light on how Roberts performs his role as chief justice. In a word, he has named more Republican than Democratic appointees as committee chairs, but that is explained in part by the shifting pools of judges reasonably eligible to serve.”

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