Alaskan zips through confirmation hearing for US District Court seat

Joshua Kindred is a nominee for U.S. District Court in Alaska. Image from Senate Judiciary Committee video.

President Trump’s nominee for the U.S. District Court vacancy in Anchorage sailed through his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday.

Joshua Kindred, 41, has a lot of courtroom experience to draw on. He used to work in the District Attorney’s office in Anchorage, prosecuting violent crimes. Last year he became a regional solicitor for the Interior Department.

But for five years in between, he worked for the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. That experience caught the eye of Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del.

“Throughout your work as an advocate for the oil and gas industry you’ve challenged environmental protections. Could you give me an example of when you’ve advocated for enforcing or strengthening environmental protections?” Coons asked

“Yes senator,” Kindred responded.

The example cited? His opposition to tougher air-quality rules for small and remote incinerators. It’s not exactly a rallying cry for environmentalists. But Kindred says the new rules effectively made garbage incineration impossible on the North Slope, and that had unintended consequences that risked environmental harm. 

“Because now industry was forced to either transport their waste by helicopter, or store it and risk that it become … predation for polar bears,” he said.

Related: Trump’s nominee for US Court in Alaska gets low marks from state bar but has youth on his side

Law Professor Carl Tobias of the University of Richmond watches a lot of these hearings. He says Kindred handled himself deftly.

“I thought he did just fine in the questions he was asked,” Tobias said in an interview after the hearing.

There weren’t a lot of questions. Kindred was one of six nominees at the hearing. The senators spent most of their time on the one appellate court candidate.  Tobias, who studies judicial selection, noticed the lower-court nominees like Kindred fielded just a few questions apiece. 

“It really wasn’t much of hearing,” Tobias said. “Which makes you wonder: for life-tenured appointees to the federal bench, why they don’t get more comprehensive treatment?”

Sen. John Neely Kennedy, R-La., regretted there wasn’t more time, but senators had to leave for votes. Kennedy, a former law professor, quizzed Kindred about search warrants the legality of checkpoints to catch drunk drivers. Kindred said it’s a balancing act – keeping the public safe while safeguarding their freedom. 

“It was often frustrating to me when I was a prosecutor to recognize that we may compromise an ability to prosecute somebody, based on something like this,” Kindred said, “but I think being cautious and protecting those rights is also important.”

And that was it. Kennedy said the senators had to go. He offered some parting advice.

“Your power, if you’re confirmed, will be immense. Don’t ever forget that,” he said. “And don’t ever completely trust the government. Even though you’re part of it. OK?”

Kindred is a graduate of the University of Alaska Anchorage and Willamette University College of Law. He introduced his wife, sons and other family members at the hearing. He also paid tribute to his father-in-law, the late state Sen. Chris Birch. 

The Judiciary Committee still has to vote on Kindred’s nomination. He could be confirmed by the full Senate early next year.