President Barack Obama on Thursday nominated Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl, a career federal prosecutor based in Fargo, to fill a vacancy on the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Puhl, an assistant U.S. attorney, was named to fill a seat formerly held by Kermit Bye, who last year at age 77 took senior status, which means he handles a reduced caseload. Bye was a Fargo lawyer in private practice when he was appointed to the appeals court in 2000 by President Bill Clinton.
"Throughout her career, Jennifer Klemetsrud Puhl has shown unwavering integrity and an outstanding commitment to public service," said Obama. "I am proud to nominate her to serve on the United States Court of Appeals."
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., praised Obama's selection of Puhl, who has been a federal prosecutor for about 14 years.
"Jennifer Puhl has proven throughout her legal career that she is a fair, thoughtful and experienced critical thinker who always seeks to understand every aspect of an issue she is working on while standing up for those who don't always have a voice," Heitkamp said.
Puhl learned her nomination was announced after a court hearing Thursday afternoon.
"Naturally I'm very excited," she said. "I'm honored and humbled to be nominated by the president for this position."
Puhl was hired as an assistant U.S. attorney in North Dakota by Drew Wrigley, who was appointed by President George W. Bush. She also served under Timothy Purdon, an Obama appointee, and Chris Myers, a career prosecutor in the office.
Purdon, now in private practice in Bismarck, said Puhl has had a "particularly distinguished career" and has played a leading role in prosecuting human trafficking and sexual abuse against children.
"She's been a key figure in the state's response to human trafficking and Internet predators against children," Purdon said.
She has served as a leader on North Dakota's Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force. In that role, and in her work as a federal prosecutor, Puhl "built a reputation as a hard-nosed, but fair, crime fighter and a real advocate for children and victims," Purdon said. "She will be an outstanding judge."
He added: "She's a prosecutor that's not just a case processor, but a community problem solver."
Noting that she has served under Republican and Democrat appointees, as well as a career prosecutor, Purdon said Puhl is "as nonpartisan as you can be."
Myers has known Puhl since he joined the U.S. Attorney's Office in 2002.
"She's an excellent lawyer and even better person," he said. "I'm excited for the opportunity for her."
Wrigley, who hired Puhl almost 15 years ago, was equally glowing in his praise. Puhl had little experience, but excellent transcripts, references and qualities, Wrigley said.
"Every single day she lived up to the expectations I had," he said, and she has since acquired extensive experience. "She will adhere to the law of the United States and apply it evenly and fairly."
A native of Devils Lake, Puhl worked as an associate in a Minneapolis law firm after graduating from the University of North Dakota School of Law. She later served as a clerk on the North Dakota Supreme Court for former Justice Mary Maring.
"She's an excellent lawyer," Maring said. "Very bright. Good writer, good researcher. I think she will be an excellent judge."
Maring, who retired last year from the state's high court, has followed Puhl's legal career since her clerkship.
If confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Puhl would join two women judges among 10 judges currently active on the 8th Circuit, which is based in St. Louis and also hears cases in St. Paul.
"After all these years to get another woman on the 8th Circuit is really important," Maring said. It's also fortunate, she said, that North Dakota would keep an active seat on the appeals court.
The six senior judges include Bye and Judge Myron Bright, both seated in Fargo.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over seven states, including North Dakota, Minnesota and South Dakota.