With a raised right hand, Scott Skavdahl took an oath to administer justice and defend the U.S. Constitution.
With a zip-up, Cidne Skavdahl completed the robing of her husband as the new federal judge in Wyoming.
With a hug, he held her and their daughter Caitlyn.
And with a roar of applause, hundreds of colleagues, family and friends welcomed Skavdahl in a rare ceremony.
“Since 1789, there have been many judicial investitures of United States district judges in America,” former Chief U.S. District Judge William Downes said.
“But this ceremony has occurred only eight times in the 121-year history of Wyoming,” he said. “This is a testament of living in our magnificent state.”
The current chief judge, Nancy Freudenthal, observed the rare harmony that accompanied her and Skavdahl’s nominations in an era when partisanship can at least stall if not derail judicial appointments.
Wyoming U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso shepherded their nominations through the Senate in less than two years, she said.
“In today’s political time, this must be a record for any judicial district in the country,” she said.
The crowd was composed of likely the greatest concentration of Wyoming legal authority in history: five Wyoming U.S. District Court judges, two 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges, Wyoming magistrate judges, the U.S. Attorney for Wyoming, two Wyoming Supreme Court justices, the three state District Court judges, the head federal public defender for Colorado and Wyoming, former Gov. Dave Freudenthal, other lawyers, court officials and staff members, and friends and family of all of the above.
Lots of U.S. Marshals, agents from the Federal Protective Service and other law enforcement officials kept a close watch on the courthouse.
All of which can go to the head of anybody, including a new federal judge, Nancy Freudenthal said.
The black robe, the phrase “your honor,” lawyers and court staff members can breed the wrong kind of pride, she said. “These are all dangerous trappings that can lead us to an inflated view of our place in this world.”
Skavdahl has the blessing of being a child of God, a loving spouse and being a good parent, and these will remain constant reminders of who he is, she said.
Others who have served on the Wyoming federal bench offered their congratulations, too,
“”We’re all very proud of you,” senior U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer said.
Brimmer said he took his oath in 1975 when Ewing Kerr was chief judge. “We didn’t have quite as much work as we do now.”
District Judge Alan Johnson said he appreciated Skavdahl’s assistant as a full-time magistrate judge in Cheyenne.
“Whenever I had a question, as we frequently do, I would approach him, and in an hour or so, he would come back with three or four cases that usually answered the issue.”
Natrona County District Court Judge Thomas Sullins, who worked with Skavdahl before being named as magistrate earlier this year, said an “investiture” has its roots in a coronation or an enthronement.
Sullins liked Skavdahl’s attributes as expressed through his dog Abby, he said. Abby, a black lab, is full of energy, very kind, a little crazy, in need of Cidne Skavdahl’s attention, and very loyal, he said.
Former law colleague Patrick Murphy noted Skavdahl’s drive to pull all-night sessions to prepare briefs, connect computers, work with other judges, and be courteous to other lawyers’ litigants and citizens.
Dave Freudenthal, referring to Sullins’ comments, said he didn’t know he would be attending a canonization. “I sent your name to the White House to be a judge, and not the pope.”
Skavdahl will render harsh judgments, but not be judgmental, and he will bring a humanity to the judiciary that is rare in a society with highly ambitious people, Freudenthal said.
Skavdahl’s daughter Caitlyn complimented her mother and said her father wouldn’t have gone as far in his career without her forbearance when he pulled all-nighters or tried to fix things around the house.
She wants to become a lawyer and said she needs to look no farther than him. “My dad is my role model.”
For his part, the new judge recounted his childhood growing up in Harrison, Neb., working on ranches, attending and playing football for University of Wyoming, and grudgingly complimenting the small-town word-of-mouth communications that kept him in line.
Skavdahl credited his new position to his and his wife’s parents, teachers, mentors, the FBI for vetting him, court staff members, Downes, and especially his family during the all-nighters and the sometimes lateness to events.
“Honey, I’ve not forgotten you,” he said.