This week President Donald Trump began the process of announcing appointments to more than 100 openings in the federal judicial system.
The names of a few North Dakotans are being thrown around as potential appointees for the 8th Circuit. According to Above the Law, which has a pretty good track record on this stuff, attorney and former NDGOP Chairman Daniel Traynor as well as recently-elected state Supreme Court Justice Jerod Tufte are being considered:
For the Eighth Circuit, I previously discussed the about-to-open Nebraska seat and also the Minnesota seat (which I correctly predicted going to Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court). But what about the North Dakota seat?
We’ve heard several names, all of them plausible: Judge Ralph Erickson, of the District of North Dakota; Daniel Traynor, who previously served as state chairman for the Republican Party in North Dakota; and Justice Jerod Tufte, of the North Dakota Supreme Court.
Also in the mix, but less likely: assistant U.S. attorney Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, who was nominated to the Eighth Circuit under the prior administration (thanks, Obama). Senator Heidi Heitkamp is pushing for Puhl’s renomination, but she probably won’t get it unless some sort of deal is cut.
I’ve also heard that Traynor is looking for some sort of an appointment.
Choosing Tufte would be interesting given how many career hops he’s had just recently. He served in the administration of Governor Jack Dalrymple before being appointed as a district court judge. He then ran for and won election to the state Supreme Court just last year.
The Puhl situation, as well as the fight Democrats seem intent on picking over the U.S. Attorney appointment for North Dakota, may serve as an illustration of just how much pull Heitkamp has with the Trump administration.
Trump did Heitkamp a big favor by considering the Senator as a potential member of his cabinet. Even though she didn’t get the job, her visit to Trump Tower in New York last year to interview with the President-elect buttressed the facade of pragmatic bipartisanship Heitkamp has built around herself.
But can Heitkamp use that good will to get Puhl renominated? Can she use it to spike the potential nomination of former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley for another term in that position, something Democrats are urging her to do as retribution for Obama-appointee Tim Purdon’s rocky appointment process?
These are subtle aspects of politics which fly under the radar of most voters, but they could have weightier implications. If Trump sees Heitkamp as a rare Democratic ally who can help him advance at least some aspects of his agenda maybe he’ll play ball with her on these appointments.
And maybe he’ll be willing to pull some punches during the 2018 cycle when Republicans will be campaigning for her seat.