(April 20) -- Among the names being floated to replace Justice John Paul Stevens on the Supreme Court, there's rising buzz surrounding one who hadn't been on the short-short list of early front-runners: Judge Sidney R. Thomas, who serves on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. How'd this dark horse wind up in the "elite" part of the potential nominee pool, as The Associated Press has reported, and what would he bring to the high court? Here are six things to know:
1. He's not from Chicago.
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals / AP
Sidney Thomas is known as a relatively moderate member of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Many of the names being floated were either born in the Windy City or, more often, studied or taught at the University of Chicago Law School, where President Barack Obama himself taught. Thomas, by contrast, was born in Montana and graduated from the University of Montana School of Law in 1978. He "may not have the traditional Eastern elite background of a Supreme Court justice, but Montanans who work with him say it would be hard to find a better candidate for the highest court," cheers
Montana's largest paper, the Billings Gazette. Currently, eight of the sitting justices on the Supreme Court attended Ivy League schools, and Thomas would be the first Montanan to serve on the nation's highest court.
2. He's a First Amendment specialist.
During his years as a private attorney, Thomas, who was appointed to the 9th Circuit Court by President Bill Clinton and confirmed in 1996, represented NBC, CNN and other media outlets.
3. He's been known not to mince words.
Thomas authored the 9th Circuit Court's 2006 ruling in Nadarajah v. Gonzales, which released
Sri Lankan citizen and suspected terrorist Ahilan Nadarajah, who had been in immigration detention for four years on the basis of testimony of a secret witness in Canada. Thomas' opinion was withering:
"Starting at age 17, Ahilan Nadarajah was repeatedly tortured in Sri Lanka. He fled to the United States, where he was detained upon arrival. He applied for asylum, withholding of removal and protection under the Convention Against Torture. Twice, the government's arguments against the grant of immigration relief have been rejected and Nadarajah has been awarded relief by an immigration judge. This decision was affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals. Yet the government continues to detain Nadarajah, who has now been imprisoned for almost five years despite having prevailed at every administrative level of review and who has never been charged with any crime. We order that a writ of habeas corpus issue, and that he be released on appropriate conditions during the pendency of any further proceedings."
4. He's ruled on behalf of the little guy.
Thomas also authored the 9th Circuit's 2004 opinion affirming
a lower-court ruling in MGM Studios v. Grokster. The case concerned copyright law and peer-to-peer file sharing, and the court drew on the precedent of earlier cases, including two involving Napster. Thomas wrote that the software distribution companies were not liable for copyright violations, since their software could also be used to distribute material lawfully, a precedent established in the famous Betamax case
. But the Supreme Court voted unanimously to set aside
Thomas' decision and found that Grokster could be held liable.
5. He has something in common with Arlo Guthrie.
From 1982 to 1995, Thomas taught law at Rocky Mountain College in Billings. One its most notable students is the famous folk singer, who attended the school but never graduated.
6. He may not be as liberal as some might think.
The 9th Circuit is the largest appeals court and is also generally perceived as the most liberal. But a former conservative Republican law partner of Thomas' says the judge's views aren't so easy to categorize. "I wouldn't class Sid Thomas with the 9th Circuit," Bernard Longo has said
. "I know he's in it, but I don't think he's as rabid as that bunch."