WASHINGTON — U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Bataillon has decided to retire from regular active service in a little more than a year.
The court issued a press release today announcing the judge's plan to take senior status on Oct. 3, 2014.
In the release, Chief District Judge Laurie Smith Camp praised Bataillon's service, noting his time as the district's chief judge and the work he has done at the national level on issues such as the federal judiciary's budget.
“We are grateful that Judge Bataillon has chosen to remain with the court in senior status, continuing to build on his impressive legacy,” she said in the release.
In taking senior status, Bataillon, 63, will continue to hear cases, but the move creates a vacancy on the federal bench in Nebraska. It's up to President Barack Obama to nominate a replacement, who then must be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
Home state senators typically receive great deference on such judicial appointments, even if they are from the opposing political party.
That means Nebraska's two senators, Mike Johanns and Deb Fischer, both Republicans, will play a key role in selecting the new judge.
Nebraska's district judges have stressed to both senators how important it is to nominate and confirm someone to replace Bataillon, according to the release. It noted that the state's per-judge criminal felony caseload ranks eighth out of the nation's 94 districts.
In a statement, Fischer thanked Bataillon for his service to Nebraska and the nation.
“As he transitions into his new role on the court when he takes senior status next year, I look forward to working with Sen. Johanns to recommend a qualified replacement to the president,” Fischer said.
Johanns also issued a statement thanking Bataillon for his service. “I’ve known Judge Bataillon for more than 40 years and wish him all the best when the time comes for him to transition into this new chapter in his life,” he said.
“Additionally, I look forward to working with Sen. Fischer on recommendations to President Obama as he looks to fill this important position for our state.”
Carl Tobias, a professor at the University of Richmond School of Law who specializes in federal judicial selection, said in an e-mail that by announcing his plans well in advance, Bataillon has provided plenty of time to nominate and confirm a replacement.
Tobias said that's especially true if the state's two U.S. senators quickly forward recommendations to the White House.
Reviewing potential candidates takes a few months and once nominated, the confirmation process typically takes about seven months, he said.
“I expect the senators will suggest well-qualified consensus candidates and the (White House) will move fast,” Tobias said.
Before President Bill Clinton tapped him for the bench, Bataillon had served as chairman of the Nebraska Democratic Party and worked as a trial lawyer specializing in defending those in medical negligence cases.
He took his oath as a federal judge in October 1997.
In 2005, Bataillon struck down Nebraska's ban on same-sex marriage, which voters had approved in 2000.
Bataillon said the ban was so broadly written it would place restrictions on roommates, tenants and foster parents. He also said it deprived gays and lesbians of basic rights, including the right to participate in the political process.
“(It) goes so far beyond defining marriage that the court can only conclude that the intent and purpose of the amendment is based on animus against this class,” he wrote.
His decision produced rejoicing among gay rights advocates and criticism from ban supporters, who noted that 70 percent of Nebraskans voted to ban same-sex marriage.
In 2006 a panel of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reversed Bataillon's decision, saying the state had a legitimate interest in promoting “responsible procreation.”