During a nomination hearing on Wednesday, Sara E. Hill, a nominee for a district judgeship in Oklahoma, faced difficulty in defining fundamental legal terms regularly used by judges. Nominated by President Biden for the district judge position in the Northern District of Oklahoma, Hill was subjected to questioning from Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee known for challenging nominees on their knowledge of legal and Constitutional concepts. This has become a routine practice for Kennedy recently, as a number of nominees have struggled to meet his standards.
One specific exchange between Kennedy and Hill centered around the distinction between a “stay” order and an “injunction” order, both commonly issued by federal courts. Hill stumbled in her attempt to provide clear definitions, stating, “A stay order would prohibit, um, sorry. An injunction would restrain the parties from taking action. A stay order … I’m not sure I can, actually can, can give you that.”
In reality, an injunction is a court order that prohibits a party involved in a case from performing or requesting a specific action while the case is ongoing, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. It is sometimes referred to as a temporary restraining order. On the other hand, a stay order is issued to halt the legal proceedings of a case in court.
Carrie Severino, a constitutional lawyer and president of the Judicial Crisis Network, expressed astonishment at Hill’s lack of knowledge on such basic legal concepts. Severino took to social media platform X (formerly Twitter) to comment on the exchange, asking, “How can an individual who wants to be a federal judge possibly not know this?” She added, “Stays and injunctions come before district judges all the time. This is not a trick question.”
Severino also pointed out that after the rigorous questioning by Kennedy, committee chair Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois “even congratulated Hill afterward for ‘passing the Kennedy bar exam’ – talk about grading on a curve!” The remark highlights concerns about the leniency shown towards nominees who appear unprepared or unfamiliar with basic legal terminology during the confirmation process.