On the very last day before Legal Aid switched to teleworking due to the COVID-19 crisis, we learned that the D.C. Judicial Nomination Commission amended its proposed rules to enlarge the pool of qualified candidates for D.C. judgeships in response to Legal Aid’s comments.
D.C. judges are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. By statute, an applicant must have been a D.C. resident for the 90 days preceding the nomination. It makes sense that D.C. judges should be D.C. residents: judges should be subject to the same laws that they interpret and apply to others. Yet requiring applicants to reside in D.C. before the President nominates them is not necessarily good policy. Many Maryland and Virginia residents have devoted their careers to practicing law in D.C. and would be among the best-qualified candidates to become D.C. judges.
Legal Aid therefore opposed a proposed rule that would have blocked individuals from even applying for D.C. judgeships without having lived in D.C. for the preceding 90 days. We were successful, and the residency requirement remains what it was to begin with: 90 days’ residency immediately before nomination.
In the long term, Legal Aid urges the Commission and Congress to study whether it is necessary for candidates to reside in D.C. before they become judges here. Allowing candidates who live elsewhere – but who are willing to move into D.C. upon becoming judges here – would enlarge the candidate pool to include attorneys with a greater diversity of backgrounds and enhance the quality of D.C. judges.