Federal appellate Judge Sidney Thomas takes over today as chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, succeeding Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.
The most public job of a chief judge at the appeals court is to preside over all 11-judge en banc appeals. With Thomas at the helm, a nominee of President Bill Clinton, it will mean a judge with a more liberal philosophy will replace the vote of Kozinski, who has traditionally been a conservative, or often libertarian vote atop the court.
Chief judges otherwise assume a variety of administrative duties and oversee review of judicial misconduct complaints. In addition, Thomas will chair two judicial.policy-making bodies on the court: the Executive Committee of the 9th Circuit and the Judicial Council of the 9th Circuit.
Thomas will also represent the 9th Circuit at the biannual meetings of the Judicial Conference of the U.S., the judiciary’s national governing body.
A chief judge is appointed based on a combination of judicial seniority and age. The post goes to the most senior judge on the court who is not yet 65. The maximum length of a chief judge’s term is seven years.
Thomas 61, is from Billings, Montana and was named to the court by Clinton in 1996. In addition to hearing all en banc cases, Thomas serves as death penalty coordinator for the appeals court.
He is a native of Bozeman and received his law degree from the University of Montana School of Law in 1978 and his undergraduate degree from MontanaStateUniversity.
Although Thomas officially took over Monday, a gavel-passing ceremony will be Friday, December 5.