Local Judge nominated by Obama to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals

from The Religion Clause blog

And what do we know of his views on Religion issues:


President Barack Obama on Friday sent two nominations for vacant Court of Appeals judgeships to the Senate. (White House press release.) Nashville attorney and ERISA specialist Jane Stranch has been nominated for the 6th Circuit. Stranch has been active in the Episcopal Church, serving as a Vice-Chancellor for the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee.

Federal district judge Thomas I. Vanaskie has been nominated for a vacancy on the 3rd Circuit. As a district judge since 1994 (chief judge since 1999) for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (Scranton), he has written several opinions dealing with free exercise issues.

  • The most important is Black Hawk v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, (2002), in which he held that a Native American holy man’s free exercise rights were violated when Pennsylvania refused to grant him an exemption from a permit fee requirement for two black bears he kept. The bears were used by Dennis Black Hawk to perform religious ceremonies. The decision was affirmed by the 3rd Circuit, in an opinion (full text) written by now Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito who at that time was a judge on the 3rd Circuit. In 2000, Vanaskie also wrote the opinion (full text) granting a preliminary injunction in the Black Hawk case.

Other free exercise opinions written by Vanaskie are:

  • Williams v. Myers, (2000), [LEXIS link], rejecting an inmate’s claim that he was denied parole for refusing to attend a religious-based drug and alcohol treatment program;
  • Shahin v. College Misericordia, (2006) [LEXIS link], finding that Muslim faculty member failed to show religious or national origin discrimination in Title VII case;
  • Khouzam v. Hogan(2008), holding that an Egyptian Coptic Christian should have been given an opportunity to challenge Egypt’s assurance that he would not be tortured if he was returned to Egypt where he had been convicted in abstentia of murder. The decision was vacated by the 3rd Circuit (full text of opinion) which agreed with the substance of Vanaskie’s findings but disagreed with the remedy he granted; and
  • Smith v. Kyler, (2008), [LEXIS link], rejecting a prisoner’s claim under the constitution and RLUIPA that the prison should have furnished Rastafarian prisoners a weekly group prayer service led by a prayer leader. The decision was affirmed by the 3rd Circuit (full text of opinion).
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