SD federal judge nominees get nod from U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C.(South Dakota Searchlight)- Two nominees for federal judgeships in the U.S. District Court of South Dakota earned the endorsement of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning in Washington, D.C.

Committee members heard directly from Sioux Falls judge candidates Eric Schulte and Camela Theeler on March 6. Thursday’s meeting involved no discussion of candidate qualifications, but rather saw committee members casting votes on whether to send the names of Schulte, Theeler and judicial nominees from other parts of the U.S. on to the full Senate.

The committee voted 12-9 for Schulte and 20-1 for Theeler.

The votes come after years of uncertainty about the open positions on South Dakota’s federal bench. Judge Jeffrey Viken of Rapid City retired last October, more than a year after announcing his departure. Judge Karen Schreier of Sioux Falls announced her plans to retire or take senior status – meaning a lower caseload – in January.

Typically, either federal elected officials or state-level officials who are members of the party with a president in office offer up the names of potential judicial nominees. The South Dakota Democratic Party’s initial suggestions stalled when its suggested candidates withdrew their names or failed to clear the screening process.

Last year, the party suggested Veronica Duffy, a current federal magistrate judge, but she was ultimately not considered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sen. Mike Rounds and Sen. John Thune, both Republicans, collaborated with the Biden administration to bring Schulte and Theeler’s names forward. Neither senator is on the Judiciary Committee.

Schulte works as a lawyer with Davenport Evans in Sioux Falls; Theeler is a state circuit court judge in Sioux Falls. Theeler would replace Viken, and Schulte would replace Schreier.

Their names are now in line for a yet-unscheduled vote in the full Senate.