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Government & Politics

NEO Federal Judges Take Senior Status, Allowing Biden to Appoint Replacements

Judge Dan Polster
Marcy Fecteau
Judge Dan Polster is among the three judges taking senior status.

There are some big changes coming to the federal bench in Ohio’s Northern District. Since President Joe Biden took office, three judges have elected to take "senior status." They are Judges Soloman Oliver, Dan Polster and James Gwin.

Oliver has overseen the federal consent decree on reforms for the Cleveland Police. Polster has been in charge of civil suits against opioid manufacturers.

Jonathan Entin, a Case Western Reserve University law professor who follows the courts closely, calls the decision to seek senior status a “partial retirement.”

“Some judges aren’t ready to hang it up,” Entin said.

Senior status allows them to keep working but take less than a full caseload if they so choose.

“At the same time, when they go senior, then the president gets to appoint a new, full-time judge. Once the new judge comes on, they’re actually more judges available to handle the work,” Entin said.

To qualify for senior status, federal judges have to meet the so-called "Rule of 80."

“If your age and your years of service as a judge total at least 80 (years), then you’re eligible to take senior status,” Entin said.

But he said not all judges who qualify choose to take it.

“But there’s also a political consideration here that is worth keeping in mind,” Entin said.

All three judges, Oliver, Polster and Gwin, were appointed by Democratic President Bill Clinton and could have elected to take senior status earlier.

“(Judges) have tended to want to leave their bench under a president of their own party,” Entin said.

He said the politics of judicial appointments have become more central in recent years.

“When Sen. (Mitch) McConnell was the majority leader under President [Donald] Trump, getting federal judges confirmed was probably his top priority. An unprecedentedly large number of federal judges got appointed under President Trump with a Republican Senate,” Entin said.

He thinks the Biden administration may look to appoint judges while they have control of the Senate, which is split 50-50 along party lines, but has Vice President Kamala Harris to act as the tie breaking vote.

“Not every appointment to a federal district court is as contentious an appointment to the Supreme Court, but some of them are,” Entin said.

As for what types of judges the Biden administration may appoint, Entin said they’re not likely to be hard-liners.

“I’d be surprised if President [Joe] Biden were to go for somebody who was regarded as some sort of ideologue,” Entin said.

Though he did say judges will come to the bench with different priorities, different experiences, and somewhat different values.

“We should expect that the judges President Biden nominates will be more likely to be women or people of color than was the case under President Trump,” Entin said.