U.S. Senate confirms appointment of Cape Elizabeth lawyer to federal bench
PORTLAND — The appointment of lawyer and Cape Elizabeth resident William Kayatta Jr. to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston won overwhelming U.S. Senate approval Wednesday afternoon.
Independent Maine Sen. Angus King and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, were among the majority in the 88-12 vote in support of Kayatta's appointment to the court that is one judicial rung below the U.S. Supreme Court.
Kayatta expressed gratitude Wednesday after the Senate vote.
“On this day of formal confirmation by the Senate, I thank the president for his confidence in nominating me, Reps. Michaud and Pingree for proposing my nomination, Sen. King and former Sen. Snowe for their strong support in the Senate, and Sen. Susan Collins in particular for her unwavering leadership in marshaling my nomination through the Senate from beginning to end,” Kayatta said in a prepared statement.
Collins and King reiterated their support for Kayatta and their pleasure in his confirmation.
"I was proud to vote in favor of Bill’s confirmation today," King said in a news release. "His installation on the First Circuit Court of Appeals, although long-awaited, is certainly a well-deserved victory."
"Maine is proud of its history of supplying superb jurists to the federal bench," Collins said. "With his exceptional intelligence, extensive experience, and demonstrated integrity, I am confident that Bill will continue in that tradition."
Kayatta waited more than a year and through two nominations to gain the seat. He will replace Judge Kermit Lipez, a South Portland resident who will continue to hear arguments as a senior judge.
A civil litigation specialist at the Pierce Atwood law firm, Kayatta will be joining the court that hears appeals of federal cases from Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.
Lipez said Kayatta will be a good fit on the six-judge bench that hears appeals spanning the breadth of federal law.
"I am thrilled. Bill will be a superb addition to the court, he's enormously talented," Lipez said.
Kayatta's experience with federal cases will suit him well, said Lipez, who was appointed July 1, 1998, after serving as a justice on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.
"There's no one right way to get to a position like this. In Bill's case, he was a law clerk to (former U.S. Court of Appeals) Judge Frank M. Coffin. Bill already has a good sense of what this job requires," Lipez said.
Coffin's widow, Ruth Coffin, said she is thrilled the Senate finally approved the nomination.
"(Kayatta) is just very bright, very stable, very knowledgeable and wise," she said "He has all the qualities a good judge should have."
Keeping the benches full is critical, Lipez said, noting that he and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter of New Hampshire are among four judges who will participate in reduced roles because of their senior judicial status.
"We are the smallest of the circuit courts with six active judges," Lipez said. "When you have a court that small, and one judge reducing a workload, it adds considerably to everyone else's work."
Lipez said he expects Kayatta will enjoy the varied case load, which spans civil, criminal and federal agency appeals.
"Over time there is some repetition, but every case offers challenges to sort through legal complexities and get to the facts," the judge said.
Kayatta was renominated to the court last month by President Barack Obama after his nomination in 2012 was stalled. It was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but never given a full floor vote last year.
"It was agonizing he wasn't appointed right away," Ruth Coffin said.
She has high hopes for the man who clerked for her husband more than 30 years ago.
"He'll make a new name for himself. Who knows, he may get on the Supreme Court someday," Coffin said, adding that her late husband would be very proud of his former clerk.
Republican Sens. Roy Blunt of Missouri, James Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, Tim Scott of South Carolina, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul of Kentucky, Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions of Alabama, Marco Rubio of Florida, John Boozman of Arkansas, James Risch of Idaho, and David Vitter of Louisiana voted against Kayatta's confirmation, according to The Hill website.