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Fox Chapel judge on Trump’s short list for Supreme Court

Tom Fontaine
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Thomas Hardiman, a federal judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, was the first member of his family to attend college.

Unlike any of his would-be contemporaries on the U.S. Supreme Court, Fox Chapel's Thomas M. Hardiman doesn't have an Ivy League law degree.

Hardiman, the first in his family to go to college, drove a taxi to help pay for law school at Georgetown University.

Now Hardiman, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, could be in the driver's seat to receive President Trump's nomination to fill a vacancy on the nation's highest court.

He's been widely reported as a front-runner, along with federal appeals court judges Neil Gorsuch of Colorado and William Pryor of Alabama.

Trump said he will announce his pick Tuesday night.

“Tom would be a terrific choice,” said fellow Third Circuit Judge D. Michael Fisher, who along with Hardiman maintains his chambers in Pittsburgh. The Third Circuit is based in Philadelphia.

“Tom is a very even-keeled person, just very steady. He knows the law well, is extremely intelligent and is very well-versed on everything we have to deal with,” Fisher said. “He has his views, but he's not somebody who expresses them in a controversial way. You'd have a hard time finding points of controversy in his career or in what he has written.”

That's important in today's politically charged climate, legal experts say. Trump's pick needs to be confirmed by the Senate. While Republicans hold a 52-48 majority there, a controversial nominee could prompt Democrats to try to filibuster, which would require 60 votes to end. Hardiman was confirmed to his Third Circuit post a decade ago on a 95-0 vote.

“(Hardiman) hasn't decided a lot of controversial cases and that helps. If you have, people focus on those cases and can attack you,” said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who is a scholar on federal judicial selection.

For example, Hardiman “has not weighed in directly on issues relating to abortion,” according to SCOTUSblog, a website that tracks the Supreme Court. His “lone campaign finance opinion suggests that he would vote to relax restrictions on campaign donations,” though that decision worked in favor of police unions, the website reported. On cases related to gun rights, the death penalty, religion and other issues important to Republicans, SCOTUSblog wrote that Hardiman's votes “have consistently been conservative,” but the website described him as “a solid, although hardly knee-jerk conservative.”

A Massachusetts native, Hardiman graduated from the University of Notre Dame before earning his law degree from Georgetown. After working in private practice for two years in Washington, D.C., Hardiman settled in Pittsburgh, the hometown of his wife, the former Lori Zappala.

Hardiman worked in private practice in Pittsburgh for more than a decade. He was appointed to the U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in 2003 and the Third Circuit in 2007.

Tom Fontaine is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7847 or [email protected].

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