On Friday, January 26, 2024, Reuters reported that the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia heard arguments in a lawsuit filed by 96-year-old Judge Pauline Newman against the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
Judge Newman, one of the longest-serving judges on the Federal Circuit, sued the court’s judicial council last year after they suspended her from hearing cases. The council said they received reports of Judge Newman showing signs of cognitive decline and impaired memory. They claimed she had been mishandling staff matters and was failing to promptly address cases in her docket.
At a motion hearing in the district court, Judge Newman’s attorneys argued that the Federal Circuit overstepped its authority by suspending her. They said such a punitive action amounts to an improper impeachment, which can only be done by Congress. However, the judicial council maintained that they were well within their statutory power to govern the court and ensure its smooth operations.
Presiding over the hearing, District Judge Christopher Cooper questioned both sides. He pressed the judicial council on whether they should have transferred the investigation to a different judicial circuit, given Judge Newman’s long tenure on the Federal Circuit. However, Judge Cooper also challenged Judge Newman’s attorneys on whether disability proceedings are warranted in cases where a judge’s fitness is questioned.
No ruling was issued during the hearing, which Judge Newman did not personally attend. She has denied all claims of impaired conduct and mental unfitness. The district court will now consider both arguments before deciding whether Judge Newman’s lawsuit against the Federal Circuit can move forward. A separate appeal of her suspension is also pending with the U.S. Judicial Conference.