CINCINNATI - The short list for U.S. Supreme Court nominees includes a federal appeals court judge who calls Northern Kentucky home.
Amul Thapar is one of 27 judges on the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals based in Cincinnati. Friends and colleagues told WCPO they’re excited about the possibility that Thapar might become one of nine justices on the highest court in the land, replacing retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy.
They said if President Trump nominates the 49-year-old Thapar and the Senate confirms him, he would be a perfect fit.
“I’ve never labeled him liberal, conservative,” said Adam McNeely. “I think he’s a principled jurist who follows the law and he works hard to get the right result.”
“What’s consistent is that he is always prepared, he is always respectful, he sees the big picture,” said Jeff Mando.
“He’s highly intelligent, really thoughtful about everything that he does,” said Michael Whiteman.
“As phenomenal a judge as he is, I think he’s 10 times better a human being,” said Ben Dusing.
From 2008 to 2017 Thapar served as a federal judge for the Eastern District of Kentucky. Those who practiced in front of him knew that they better be prepared when they walked into his courtroom.
Mando appeared before Thapar many times in civil rights cases.
“If you’ve cited a case in a brief, you better know that case inside and out,” Mando said. “You better know if there’s been a dissent. You better anticipate all the problems you might have with your argument.
“I don’t see him as a judge who has a large ego. I’ve always found him to be very down to earth and respectful in how he talks to the lawyers, in terms of how he addresses the clients in the courtroom.”
McNeely was Thapar’s first law clerk and calls him a wonderful friend, father and person.
“He worked his clerks hard to prepare for those cases,” McNeely said. “Very principled jurist, and I think he really worked hard to get the right result.”
Starting when he was a law clerk here in 1994, the Troy, Michigan, native has lived and worked in the Tri-State for almost 20 years.
Thapar has been on the faculty of Chase College of Law for 10 years. Ironically, one of his classes is The Supreme Court Seminar.
“He’s fair, but demanding,” said Whiteman, the interim dean. “He has the best and brightest of Chase in his class and he makes sure they learn when they’re in there and prepared.
“The Supreme Court Seminar is limited to nine students and the students have to apply to get into the class. It’s that competitive. Within the class, they take on the role of a Supreme Court justice and Judge Thapar walks them through some of the biggest, hottest topics of the day — legal topics — and they have to wrestle with it and they have to look at is as if they, themselves, were coming down with the opinion.
“He really works with them, has them analyze all the legal issues from both sides, and really gets into the nitty-gritty of it. He does a great job, and when our students come out, they’re our top students.”
Dusing was mentored by Thapar as a new U.S. attorney in Cincinnati. WCPO contacted Dusing by phone in Moscow, Russia.
“He worked my tail off. When I first met Amul, wow, I thought he was crazy,” Dusing said.
“I came to learn that he has a special passion for life, a special passion for people and he worked my tail off and he made me better,” Dusing said. “I’m a better human being, father, professional on account of Judge Thapar, and nobody’s rooting for him more. I love the guy.”
Thapar’s rulings include a split decision on whether Kentucky’s judicial cannons violate the rights of judges running for office. He rejected the claim of a Sherwin Williams employee who said he was wrongly discharged because of the effects of a stroke.
“I think his rulings are consistent with somewhat of a federalist approach,” said Dusing. “He is a judge who applies the law. There are no politics in the courtroom. There’s no politics in the case of Judge Thapar.”
As busy as he is, Thapar is active in his community, Dusing said.
"Does the readings in his church, coaches the high school debate team, which he asked me to help with a few years ago,” Dusing said. “I really don’t know how he does it. But he does it all and he does it with enthusiasm, aplomb and it’s a special thing."
Dusing called Thapar “a rare combination of … intellectual brillance, charisma, a genuine other-centered person that feeds off and contributes to the energy of those around him.
“And character — probably more than anything, character," Dusing said.
“If ever there was a good man, that is a good man.”