Puhl nomination to U.S. appeals court takes step with Senate panel OK

WASHINGTON -- Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl took a step toward becoming a federal appeals court judge Thursday, July 14, when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved her nomination.

Jennifer Puhl, Assistant U.S. Attorney, talks about the challenges of prosecuting human trafficking cases during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. Carrie Snyder / Forum News Service

WASHINGTON -- Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl took a step toward becoming a federal appeals court judge Thursday, July 14, when the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved her nomination.

If approved by the full Senate, Puhl, a federal prosecutor based in Fargo, would join the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the first woman to be confirmed to a lifetime judicial appointment in North Dakota.

President Barack Obama nominated Puhl, an assistant U.S. attorney, in January to replace Judge Kermit Bye, whose nomination to the appeals court was confirmed in 2000. Bye announced in December 2014 he would take senior status, meaning he handles a reduced caseload.

As a prosecutor, much of Puhl’s focus has involved child exploitation, human trafficking and cybercrime.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., both supported Puhl’s nomination.


“There are few litigators who possess the courage, tenacity and skill needed to take on the most serious crimes threatening some of our nation’s most vulnerable populations,” Heitkamp said in a statement Thursday. “But for nearly a decade and a half that’s exactly what Jennifer Puhl has done in North Dakota -- leading the charge against human trafficking, child exploitation and cybercrime.”

Hoeven, who noted that Puhl also had the support of Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, a Republican who hired Puhl when he served as U.S. attorney, said she has support from senators in both parties.

“Puhl has a reputation for being nonpartisan and enjoys broad support on both sides of the aisle,” Hoeven said in a statement. “I will continue to support her and work to get a full floor vote on her nomination.”

Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who tracks federal judicial appointments, said there is one circuit court nominee ahead of Puhl. He said he is “cautiously optimistic” she will have a September floor vote, and, if not, in the “lame duck” session following the November election.

“Because Puhl is a well-qualified, mainstream nominee with support of both North Dakota senators, the Senate should easily confirm her,” he said in an email.

Puhl, a native of Devils Lake and a graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Law, worked as an associate in a Minneapolis law office and as a law clerk in the North Dakota Supreme Court before becoming a federal prosecutor in 2002.

If confirmed by the Senate, Puhl would join two female judges among 10 currently active on the 11-member 8th Circuit, which is based in St. Louis and also hears cases in St. Paul. It’s expected that she’d be based out of Fargo.

The 8th Circuit’s six senior judges include Bye and Judge Myron Bright, both seated in Fargo. The 8th Circuit has jurisdiction over seven states, including North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.

Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address:
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