Senate confirms Supreme Court justices

DOVER – The Delaware Senate unanimously confirmed Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. to take over the top spot on the high court and Vice Chancellor Tamika Montgomery-Reeves to ascend to the Supreme Court on Thursday, Nov. 7.

Every member of the 21-seat Senate approved the nominations put forward by Gov. John Carney late last month. The appointments were widely expected to proceed without issue as both had already been confirmed by the Senate in their prior appointments and the state Constitution requires that the seats be filled by Democrats, who also control the Senate. Their announcements have also earned praise in the legal and business worlds.

Gov. John Carney with Justice Collins J. Seitz Jr. & Justice Tamika Montgomery-Reeves

In a statement released after the vote, Carney commended the Senate for its approval. “Justice Seitz is one of Delaware’s finest legal minds, and has the judgment, sense of fairness, and experience necessary to maintain and build on the Delaware courts’ reputation as objective, stable, and nonpartisan,” Carney said. “Since 2015, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves has served with distinction on Delaware’s Court of Chancery – our country’s premier venue for corporate litigation. Before her appointment to the Court of Chancery, Vice Chancellor Montgomery-Reeves practiced corporate law in Wilmington and New York. She has the experience and sense of justice necessary to serve on our Supreme Court.”

In announcing the confirmations, Senate Pro Tem David McBride (D-Hawk’s Nest), the ranking majority member of the chamber, said that Delaware’s high legal regard has been earned “by cultivating an elite pool of lawyers, judges, and experts.”

“As Senators, we play a small but important role in sustaining that level of excellence by confirming judicial nominees and I can say with confidence that today’s nominees are some of the best we have ever considered,” he said in a statement. “I was supremely impressed by their experience, their commitment to the law and justice in this state, and their testimony in the Senate chamber today. It is my hope that all Delawareans will join my colleagues and me in celebrating today’s unanimous confirmation votes.”

The judicial moves, set off by the unexpected resignation of Chief Justice Leo Strine Jr. effective at the end of October, led to a search that was of high interest for the corporate class. Over 1 million businesses, including half of all publicly traded companies and more than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies, are incorporated in Delaware due to its business-focused equity court, the Court of Chancery, where specialized judges rather than juries rule on corporate disputes. The state Supreme Court hears all appeals from the Court of Chancery and has long set precedent in the world of corporate governance.

The departure of Strine, an often-outspoken jurist whose courtroom questioning, written opinions and academic essays have raised eyebrows over the years and even led to an admonishment from the Delaware Supreme Court in 2012, meant corporate litigators were waiting to see whose viewpoint would head the court.

Seitz, who has served on the Supreme Court since 2015, will now become the 27th chief justice in the court’s history and likely bring a calming approach to the bench, according to experts. A lifelong Delawarean, Seitz is a graduate of Tower Hill School and has been a Delaware Bar Association member since 1983.

Former Gov. Jack Markell announced his nomination of Seitz in February 2015, and Seitz was confirmed to the court by the Delaware Senate a month later, starting a 12-year term that expires on April 14, 2027. Seitz received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in 1980 and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University School of Law.

Before his appointment to the bench, Seitz, who is the son of famed jurist Collins J. Seitz Sr. who was a key figure in the desegregation of Delaware’s schools, was a founding partner of Seitz, Ross, Aronstam & Moritz LLP. He was also previously the managing partner of Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP.

Meanwhile, the appointment of Montgomery-Reeves is a milestone for Delaware, which has never had a black Supreme Court justice. She was the first black Court of Chancery judge in that court’s history when she was confirmed in November 2015.Her confirmation also ends the First State’s inclusion on a list of 18 states that have never had an African American serve on its top court.

Montgomery-Reeves graduated from the University of Mississippi and the University of Georgia School of Law, where she continues to serve as a guest professor, according to its website.

Montgomery-Reeves was nominated and confirmed in 2015 to serve on the Court of Chancery. Before joining the judiciary, she practiced at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in Wilmington, where she focused on corporate governance and business litigation. Montgomery-Reeves also practiced at Weil Gotshal & Manges in New York, where she focused on corporate governance and securities litigation.

Montgomery-Reeves will join justices Seitz, Gary Traynor, Karen Valihura and James Vaughn Jr. on the high court.

Her promotion to the high court will open a new search for a replacement on the Court of Chancery, which will be of high interest to corporate America.

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