DC’s Chief Justice job spins with Trump probes poised
“What fascinating questions! Friedman said wryly as Howell remained stone-faced on the dais. “We would all love to read his opinions, but we can’t,” he said with a laugh.
Friedman, however, noted that Howell issued 100 secret grand jury opinions during his seven-year tenure.
Another colleague, Judge Tanya Chutkan, also alluded to Howell’s work in resolving the court’s grand jury disputes over the past seven years.
“There’s so much work that Chief Justice Howell has done that we may never know,” Chutkan said.
Another tribute to Howell came from Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who served on the DC District Court before being elevated to the DC Circuit Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court. Jackson said Howell had been essential in keeping the capital’s Critical District Court running through a series of major challenges.
“She’s like this beam of steel in a building project that supports everything else,” Jackson said.
Howell was replaced as chief on Friday by Judge James Boasberg. Both are appointed by President Barack Obama.
Boasberg also referenced Howell’s handling of secret grand jury proceedings.
“Most of the work she’s done has been secret, so she doesn’t even get credit for it,” he said.
By law, the position of Chief Justice of the Federal Courts is filled primarily by seniority, with a maximum term of seven years. Howell, a former prosecutor and Senate aide who has served on the U.S. District Court since 2010, will continue to hear cases on the normal rotation.
No major changes in the direction of the court or those investigations are expected as a result of the change, but Boasberg will now have to resolve privilege fights and other disputes before the grand jury and could receive referrals from the United States Court of Appeals. DC Circuit, which is currently considering several appeals related to Howell’s decisions.
Howell’s work overseeing high-profile grand jury cases involving former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia, Trump’s ongoing investigations and criminal cases stemming from the attack of January 6, 2021 against the Capitol have earned him a cult following on social networks.
Chutkan alluded to that fame in his remarks on Friday, pointing to memes about Howell on TikTok and “stans” who applauded his decisions.