WASHINGTON — The Senate on Monday confirmed Karen Gren Scholer, a former Dallas County civil court judge, to serve as a federal judge for the Northern District of Texas and fill a seat in Dallas that’s been vacant for nearly two years.
Scholer, a co-managing partner in the Dallas law firm Carter Scholer, was confirmed 95-0.
Former President Barack Obama nominated Scholer for the Eastern District of Texas in 2016, but despite the support she received from both Texas senators, her nomination expired when Republicans stalled votes on Obama court nominees.
President Donald Trump nominated Scholer in September for the Northern District, and the Senate Judiciary Committee approved her nomination in October. She’s awaited a confirmation vote in the Senate since then.
The seat she’ll fill is one of the Lone Star State’s 11 judicial vacancies, all of which have been determined to be “judicial emergencies.” A seat can be declared an emergency for a number of reasons, including if it’s been vacant for more than 18 months and has an excessive number of court filings per judge.
Scholer is the second district judge from Texas to be confirmed by the Senate under Trump and the second former Obama nominee. The Senate unanimously confirmed Walter David Count to the Western District of Texas in January.
“Karen’s extensive experience in the courtroom and commitment to serving her community will help make her an excellent federal judge,” said Texas Sen. John Cornyn. “I’m proud to vote for her confirmation and am pleased that the Senate has acted to confirm such a well-qualified individual who I know will continue to serve North Texans well.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also praised her confirmation.
“I am pleased the Senate has confirmed Karen Scholer,” Cruz said. “Her experience, diligence, and commitment to the rule of law will serve her well as the newest federal district court judge for North Texans.”
Scholer will fill one of four vacancies in the Northern District, which has more than 7,000 civil cases that are more than three years old. That’s up from 87 cases in 2012, according to numbers from the Federal Court Management Statistics at the end of 2017.
Northern District Chief Judge Barbara Lynn, who was nominated by Democrat Bill Clinton, said the high number of vacancies has required judges to make long drives across the region to cover cases.
The Northern District extends from Dallas to the Panhandle.
“We’re 25 percent short, and our district is the largest district in land area of any district in the United States that is not an entire state,” she said in December. “We’re just plugging those gaps as best we can, but we sure could use the help.”
Now, the Northern District will await the confirmation of Matthew Kacsmaryk, a religious conservative who passed through the Senate Judiciary committee in a party-line vote in January. Trump has yet to announce nominees for the remaining two vacancies in the Northern District.
If confirmed for the lifetime position, Kacsmaryk will fill a seat based in Amarillo that’s been vacant since February 2016 when Mary Lou Robinson took senior status — a form of working retirement available to federal judges.
Democrats have unsuccessfully protested Kacsmaryk’s nomination after gay-rights advocacy groups called for senators to drop his nomination. Kacsmaryk is the second Trump court pick who spent part of his career at the Plano-based First Liberty Institute, a conservative law firm focused on advancing religious-liberty cases. Jeff Mateer, whose nomination died after remarks he made about gay and transgender people came to light, served as general counsel for the group.
Kacsmaryk is far less controversial than Mateer, but a coalition of nearly 40 groups representing gay, lesbian and transgender people asserted in a letter to the Judiciary Committee that he is “an anti-LGBT activist.” They referred to a 2015 op-ed that Kacsmaryk wrote titled “The Abolition of Man … and Woman,” in which he said those legislating and litigating same-sex marriage are attempting to remove a “pillar of marriage law.”
Democrats bounced Kacsmaryk’s nomination back to the White House in December, but President Donald Trump quickly renominated him at the start of the new year. He’ll need a vote from the full Senate to be confirmed to the bench.