Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain: From Politics to Judgment


Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain. Painting by Wayne Chin

Looking back on his judicial record, Judge O’Scannlain can take substantial pride in the track record his opinions—or, more often, dissents—have posted before the Supreme Court. A notable example arising out of Oregon was the 2014 case of Wood v. Moss. The unanimous Supreme Court closely tracked the reasoning of Judge O’Scannlain’s dissent from denial of rehearing en banc in reversing the Ninth Circuit’s rejection of qualified immunity for Secret Service agents protecting the president during a campaign swing through Jacksonville. More recently, the Court affirmed or vindicated Judge O’Scannlain’s votes in every case it took up in its 2017-18 and 2018-19 terms. He says his success in anticipating how the justices will rule on a case has helped him “maintain confidence” in his work.

Judge O’Scannlain has also helped place an outsized number of his former law clerks in coveted Supreme Court clerkships. As of February 2020, twenty-five of the judge’s clerks have gone on to clerk for one of the justices. Very few judges sitting outside of Washington, D.C., have matched that record. He acknowledges that positive feedback from the Supreme Court and the justices who have hired his clerks motivated him to remain active on the Ninth Circuit long after he was eligible to retire.

It has now been more three years since Judge O’Scannlain took senior status, but he remains heavily engaged in the work of the Ninth Circuit. After more than three decades as one of the leading voices on the court, he has become something of an institution himself—one his countless admirers hope shall endure for many years to come.

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