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Ted Cruz Commends Judicial Candidates for Having 'Boring' Confirmation Hearings

Jeffrey Brown testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his April 10 confirmation hearing to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Texas. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, commended two nominees for U.S. district courts in the Lone Star State today for having “boring” confirmation hearings, where Cruz himself was the only senator on the dais.

“I think it’s a testament to your qualifications, that each senator, having reviewed them, was impressed,” Cruz said at the hearing before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, adding that one colleague told him about being wowed by the nominees. “Those are not compliments given lightly.”

The hearing is one step in the confirmation process for Jeffrey Brown, nominated to be a U.S. district judge for the Southern District of Texas in Galveston, and Brantley Starr, who’s nominated to serve as a U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Texas. President Donald Trump nominated them to the bench on March 8.

Brown declined to comment, and Starr didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.

During the hearing, Cruz asked both nominees for their own definitions of a good judge.

Both men replied that a good judge always follows the law and maintains a good, even temperament. Brown added that good judges also ensure that anyone they interact with in court feels they’ve had a chance to be heard and got a fair day in court. Starr noted that good judges treat everyone with kindness and respect.

Brantley Starr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his April 10 confirmation hearing to be U.S. district judge for the Northern District of Texas. Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi/ALM.

Cruz also asked Brown and Starr for their definitions of judicial activism.

Brown replied that it happens when a judge puts his own policy or preference ahead of what the law plainly states, while Starr’s definition was similar. Both nominees expressed that judicial activism is inappropriate.

Brown has served on the Texas Supreme Court as a justice since 2013. Brown earlier was a justice on Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals and served as a judge on the 55th District Court. He joined the state district court bench from Baker Botts in Houston, where he practiced civil litigation. Brown clerked for Justices Jack Hightower and Greg Abbott of the Supreme Court of Texas after graduating from the University of Houston Law Center.

Starr previously was a law clerk for Judge Don Willett of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit back when Willett was a justice on the Texas Supreme Court. Now Starr works in the Texas Office of the Attorney General as a deputy first assistant attorney general. He previously practiced appellate litigation at King & Spalding in Austin, served in the attorney general’s office as an assistant solicitor general under Cruz and then James Ho, who is now a Fifth Circuit judge. Starr earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law.

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht attended the hearing along with Justice Eva Guzman, who both were in Washington, D.C., on other business dealing with access to justice. Hecht said he wasn’t surprised the hearing was noncontroversial, because Brown, Starr and a third nominee for a Pennsylvania bench are all “outstanding nominees.”

Hecht noted it’s great for the country for Brown to become a U.S. district judge—but bad for him, especially since two years ago he lost Willett to the federal judiciary as well.

“I’m very proud of him and I know he’ll make a great trial judge,” Hecht said about Brown. “He was a trial judge before, and he just did a great job.”

In a statement, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton also expressed that he’s sad to lose Starr’s expertise, but thrilled for Starr and his family.

“Brantley Starr is a brilliant attorney, a dedicated public servant and a trusted legal advisor on my executive team. Because he has such a stellar career record of serving Texas by standing up for the rule of law with professionalism and integrity, I knew this day was inevitable,” Paxton said. “Brantley will make an outstanding federal judge.”

Brantley Starr