Americans are entirely justified in wondering if the federal judiciary is in danger of warranting the same lack of respect, even contempt, that Congress and the White House now command. Regardless of how you ideologically view Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States, we never thought we’d witness a day in America when a federal jurist dodged questions such as whether a sitting president can pardon himself.
Blame not only jurists but politicians and our society’s rampant tribalism. Last week we saw left-wing protesters disrupt Senate confirmation hearings for Judge Kavanaugh, revealing their contempt for congressional order and a failure to understand that a time and a place exist for First Amendment expression. That said, Republicans proved in 2016 that constitutional order and tradition meant nothing when they refused to consider a Supreme Court nominee duly submitted by a president of African descent.
So let’s take a moment to cheer good news regarding the federal judiciary: The Senate on Thursday confirmed Alan D. Albright, an Austin attorney and former federal magistrate, as the new federal district judge for Waco. He’ll relieve District Judge Robert Pitman, an exceptional jurist filling in on the local bench since ethical lapses ensnared then-District Judge Walter S. Smith in 2015. Pitman praises Albright’s placing a premium on civility in the courtroom.
During a Waco-McLennan County Bar Association luncheon in May, Albright cordially (and with dry humor) made clear he’s interested in facilitating testimony, legal deliberation and justice through whatever means hard-working attorneys before his court believe is best, so long as they agree on protocols before pressing him. He stressed that he intends to ensure nearby Baylor Law School is part of the mix, including in the realm of able law clerks.
“I intend to come here and serve as long as I am physically and mentally capable of serving Waco,” Albright, 58, said, dismissing any ambitions beyond the local venue. “That’s one thing that is very important. Two, I want to be a lawyer’s judge. If you see me out on my bike riding in Cameron Park — I do a lot of running and stuff like that — I hope you feel like you can come up and talk with me.”
Yes, Albright’s nomination flew under the radar during his April 25 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing (when Democrats gunned for Andrew Oldham, vying for a seat on the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Michael Truncale, another district court nominee) and last week’s Senate vote on his appointment (amidst the tumultuous Kavanaugh hearings). However, President Trump seems to have gotten this appointment right. Albright’s demeanor, professionalism and apparent reluctance to say or do the crazy things some jurists have suggests promising times ahead. Such restraint and common-sense adherence to the law may help repair the sagging credibility of the federal judiciary. In any case, we heartily welcome Alan Albright to Waco, whether at the federal courthouse or in Cameron Park.