Is Arnold Evidence of "Ideological Warfare"?

The WaPo article I noted below on ideological divisions on the U.S. Courts of Appeals highlights the case of United States v. Arnold as an example of [how] President Bush's nominees have altered the ideological balance of the Sixth Circuit.

In June 2005, two federal appellate judges here ordered Joseph Arnold released from a 21-year prison sentence after ruling that there was no credible evidence he had threatened to shoot his girlfriend's daughter with a pistol.

But Arnold's relief was fleeting. Prosecutors appealed to all of the judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit. And the full court, dominated by appointees of President Bush and other Republican presidents, reversed the initial appellate ruling, saying the evidence presented by prosecutors was sufficient to merit Arnold's conviction.

While there are quite a few cases in which the Sixth Circuit divided [purely] along political lines (several of which have been the subject of VC blog posts), Arnold is not among them. All four dissenters were Democratic nominees, and six of the seven judges who signed Judge Jeffrey Sutton's majority opinion in full were Republican nominees, but the seventh was Clinton-nominee Martha Daughtrey. Furthermore, two judges — Eric Clay (Clinton) and Richard Griffin (Bush 43) — concurred in part and dissented in part. [What confounds the Arnold-as-political-split narrative even further is that Judge Daughtery is generally considered a quite liberal judge Ronald Lee Gilman, who dissented, is generally considered the most moderate of the Clinton nominees to the court. So Arnold is not a case of a stereotypical right-left split.]

Another curiosity about the piece is that there is little mention of the longstanding nature of ideological divisions on the Sixth Circuit — divisions (and associated allegations of judicial misconduct) that pre-date the confirmation of many Bush nominees. Nor is there any mention of allegations that some activists sought to delay the confirmation of Bush nominees to the Sixth Circuit with an eye toward influencing particular cases. [My point is not to down play the division on the Sixth Circuit divisions — I've posted on it extensively (and was even quoted in the Post story. But I do not think the Sixth Circuit's divisions are due to Bush's nominations.

Ed Whelan has more on the article here.

UPDATE: I've revised the post a bit as indicated.

FURTHER UPDATE: It also seems to me that Arnold is a relatively poor example of how Bush's judicial nominations have altered the Sixth Circuit's balance. As discussed above, Arnold did not involve a typical ideological split among the judges. Nor does it represent a recurring issue on which the court's doctrine has changed over time as the court's ideological balance has shifted. In this regard, I think a case involving an ineffective assistance of counsel claim and/or the application of AEDPA to habeas claims would would have better illustrated the Post article's point. These are issues that clearly divide the Democratic and Republican nominees on the court, and they are issues on which the Court's approach has changed due to changes in its composition.

Patterico has more on the Post's treatment of the Arnold case here.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Is Arnold Evidence of "Ideological Warfare"?
  2. "Ideological Warfare" on the Sixth Circuit: