Bress’s nomination to the Ninth Circuit comes in the wake of President Trump’s repeated attacks on the independence of the circuit and his stated desire to obtain different rulings (see our report on fellow Ninth Circuit Trump nominee Kenneth Lee for more information). Bress is being nominated to advance the President’s far-right agenda and act as a reliable ideologue on the bench.
The White House did not meaningfully consult with Bress’s home-state senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris – and neither senator has returned her blue slip on his nomination. Importantly, Bress is nominated to fill a California seat on the circuit, and both senators have highlighted his lack of connection to the state. As Senator Feinstein wrote, “[W]e raised concerns about Daniel Bress since he lives in Washington, D.C., not California, is quite young and has no judicial experience.”
Bress is a resident of Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He has practiced law at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Washington for 11 years. In fact, the firm highlighted Bress as one of “D.C.’s rising stars” (not “California’s rising stars”) in 2017. Bress’s professional connection to California is minimal[i], as he worked as an attorney in San Francisco for only one year, from 2007-2008.[ii]
At a Judiciary Committee hearing on March 7, 2019, Senator Feinstein said, “I don’t understand why the White House would choose someone with such a limited connection to the state.” Chairman Lindsey Graham appeared to agree: “[h]aving a nominee to the circuit court with very little connection to California bothers me.”[iii]
Perhaps recognizing a potential hiccup with his nomination, Bress has sought to embellish his California ties. In his Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire, Bress listed his current office address as Kirkland & Ellis LLP in Washington. And, at least as of November 2018 – one month after it was publicly reported he was being considered for the Ninth Circuit – his law firm’s profile provided only a Washington phone number.
Yet if one goes to his law firm’s website today, while his nomination is being considered by the Senate, it appears that Bress has obtained a San Francisco phone number. Given that he did not have a California number at least as of November 2018, this raises the question of whether he added a San Francisco phone number in an effort to fool the committee.
In 2011, Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin blocked the nomination of Victoria Nourse, President Obama’s nominee to the Seventh Circuit, because she “really has very little connection to the state of Wisconsin, and nobody in the legal community in Wisconsin knows anything about her.” In fact, Nourse, whom the Wisconsin Federal Nominating Commission had recommended (unlike Bress, who was not recommended by his home-state commissions), had been a professor of law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison since 1994 – 16 years at the time of her nomination. By comparison, Bress has spent one year, over a decade ago, practicing law in California.
There are tens of thousands of lawyers who live in California. The fact that President Trump bypassed these lawyers and instead chose a Washington D.C. attorney with minimal professional ties to the state suggests that Bress was not selected because of his legal ability or his ability to neutrally apply facts to law. It suggests he was nominated because President Trump knows Bress will be a reliable ideologue on a court Trump has been fixated on, has vilified, and has sought to reshape. Alliance for Justice opposes Bress’s nomination.
[i] Senn. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Daniel Aaron Bress Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees, at 1-2, available at https://afj.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Daniel-Bress-Senate-Judiciary-Questionnaire.pdf.
[ii] Id. at 2.
[iii] Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Business Meeting, March 7, 2019, at 00:32:55, available at https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/meetings/03/07/2019/executive-business-meeting.