Last March, The New York Times reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had been “quietly making overtures” to older Republican-nominated judges to encourage them to retire so that then-President Trump could fill their vacancies before the end of his term. After the 2020 presidential election, the Los Angeles Times reported that, reciprocally, some federal judges had been deliberately delaying their retirements in the hope that a different president would be able to nominate their successors.
In the three weeks since President Biden’s inauguration, 28 federal judges have announced that they are retiring or transitioning to “senior status”–a form of semi-retirement available to more senior judges in which they can reduce their caseload or be more selective in the types of cases they accept, and that opens up their seat as vacant.
The recent retirement announcements include some jurists who are well known within the financial services industry:
- Robert A. Katzmann has served on the Second Circuit since 1999 and was its Chief Judge from 2013 to 2020. The day after President Biden’s inauguration, NYU Law announced that Judge Katzmann was taking senior status and joining the NYU Law faculty. Among his many decisions in over two decades on the bench, Judge Katzmann wrote the seminal majority opinion in United States v. Martoma, which defined the personal benefit element of insider trading.
- Denny Chin, who served as a district judge in the Southern District of New York from 1994 until 2010, when President Obama elevated him to the Second Circuit, will take senior status in June. Judge Chin is perhaps best known for presiding over the prosecution of Bernie Madoff, whom he sentenced to a prison term of 150 years. Judge Chin also granted summary judgment to dispose of a copyright class action that would have prevented Google from scanning tens of millions of books into a digital library.
- Outside New York, Dan Aaron Polster, a federal district judge in Cleveland, has risen to national prominence as the judge presiding over the multidistrict litigation arising from opiate litigation in federal courts. He previously presided over a securities fraud action against Cliffs Natural Resources Inc., which resulted in an $84 million class settlement. Judge Polster took senior status on January 31.
In addition to those who have already announced their retirement, many judges with heavy footprints in capital markets litigation either are or will become eligible for retirement on pension or senior status within the next four years, should they so choose. These include, among many others, First Circuit Judge William J. Kayatta Jr.; Second Circuit Judges Jose A. Cabranes, Rosemary S. Pooler, and Susan L. Carney; Seventh Circuit Chief Judge Diane Wood and Judges Frank Easterbrook and David F. Hamilton; and Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Sidney Thomas.
These resignations are not likely to result in a sea change in the federal courts’ political composition. But the displacement of older voices with newer and often more ideological jurists may have a significant impact on capital markets litigation for decades to come.
President Biden has not yet announced any judicial nominations.
A complete list of retiring federal judges is available at the website of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts