Wyoming Judge Kelly Rankin Faces Senate Committee For Federal Judgeship

Wyoming’s Kelly Rankin, nominated for a U.S. District Court judgeship, breezed through his nomination hearing on Wednesday having to only answer one question. Other nominees were blasted by Sens. John Kennedy and Josh Hawley.

Leo Wolfson

January 24, 20244 min read

Wyoming Judge Kelly Rankin testifying for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Wednesday about his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.
Wyoming Judge Kelly Rankin testifying for the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Wednesday about his nomination to the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming. (Cowboy State Daily Staff)

A Wyoming judge made his case before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary on Wednesday for why he should be the next federal judge for the state.

Kelly Rankin didn’t have to say much as he was only asked one question by the panel, the least interaction the committee had with the six Joe Biden nominees to fill openings in federal courts across the country.

Rankin had the backing of Wyoming Sens. John Barrasso and Cynthia Lummis, who testified for him and urged the committee to confirm his nomination.

“I wholeheartedly support the nomination of Kelly Rankin to serve as the U.S. District Court Judge for Wyoming,” Barrasso said. “Judge Rankin’s roots to our great state run deep and his life has been dedicated to public service.”

Both said Rankin will follow the U.S. Constitution and federal laws to a T, but Lummis said Rankin’s strongest qualification for the job is his temperament and character.

“A judge must be quick to listen, slow to speak and have an innate drive to understand all sides of an issue,” Lummis said. “Through all of the opportunities I’ve had to interact with Judge Rankin over the years, I have found that he is a fine exemplar of all of these qualities.”

Rankin said his parents instilled in him the value of hard work, treating everyone with kindness and the importance of public service.

Smooth Sailing

Five other judicial nominees engaged in the hearing with Rankin.

Sen. Alex Padilla, D-California, asked Rankin and the other nominees if it’s important to have diversity within the judicial branch and what he would do to achieve diversity.

Rankin agreed that maintaining diversity within the court system is important.

“It’s a reflection of who we are as citizens of this great country, it’s a reflection of the litigants that come before us in the courtroom,” he said.

During his 12 years as a magistrate judge, Rankin said he routinely hired people with a variety of backgrounds and experiences. He said he would continue doing so if confirmed by the Judiciary Committee.

Nominees from other parts of the U.S. were peppered with blistering questions from Republican Sens. John Kennedy of Louisiana and Josh Hawley of Missouri.

The nominees will be confirmed or denied at a later time. Rankin can still receive on-the-record questions from the committee until Jan. 31.

Who Is Rankin?

Rankin has been the chief U.S. magistrate judge for the District of Wyoming in Cheyenne since 2012. The role of magistrate judge is a lower position within the federal court system, mostly limited to presiding over preliminary and discovery hearings.

In December, Biden announced the nomination of Chief Justice Magistrate Kelly Rankin to replace Judge Nancy Freudenthal on the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming.

“I thank President Biden for this profound honor of his nomination,” Rankin said.

Rankin has bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats, and also has been endorsed by former Democratic Wyoming govs. Dave Freudenthal and Mike Sullivan.

“Kelly has significant bipartisan support,” Barrasso said.

Rankin’s sons served as pages for former Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and Barrasso, and his mother worked for former Wyoming Sen. Malcolm Wallop.

Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn commended Biden for selecting candidates that the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee can accept.

“It demonstrates we can actually get along and get things done here in a bipartisan way,” Cornyn said.

Rankin previously served as criminal chief in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Wyoming from 2010-2012. Before that, he was counsel to Dave Freudenthal in 2010 and was U.S. attorney for the District of Wyoming from 2008-2010.

Prior to becoming U.S. attorney, Rankin served as an assistant U.S. attorney and as the Park County attorney.

Rankin thanked the senators, his family and the Wyoming State Bar for helping him get to where he is.

“I am proud to be a Wyoming lawyer,” he said.

Rankin also thanked Nancy Freudenthal for her judgeship. Freudenthal was the first woman to serve on the federal bench in Wyoming.

“It’s an honor to be nominated to take her place,” he said.

Leo Wolfson can be reached at leo@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Leo Wolfson

Politics and Government Reporter