Congratulations, we think

This week, Nevada’s Attorney General Brian Sandoval was recommended for a U.S. District Court judge seat by Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign. Sandoval, 41, is the first Hispanic to have won election to a Nevada statewide constitutional office.

On the one hand, we say, “Congratulations, Attorney General Sandoval, that’s really great.”

On the other hand, and it’s not because Sandoval is a horrible choice, we say, “Wow, that’s really … interesting.” How is a 41-year-old, half-a-term AG qualified to be a federal judge? This smacks of behind-the-scenes political maneuvering.

Why would Harry Reid want to promote the one guy who’s had some real success in the legal battles against Yucca Mountain away from his post? What’s the benefit to John Ensign?

Since Sandoval seemed an obvious GOP candidate to run for governor when Gov. Kenny Guinn is term-limited out in 2006, maybe he’s being given a post more suited to an attorney so that someone, say, a Republican congressman, might have a clearer shot at the governorship.

Hard to say. There can be no doubt that Sandoval is an accomplished politician, and, the optimists among us say, public servant. He was first elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1994, then again in 1996. He served on the Nevada Gaming Commission, first as a member and then as chairman, the youngest person ever to hold that office. His credentials as listed on his bio on the Attorney General’s Web site,, make him seem almost too good to be true. And it’s not like he’s real hard to look at.

There can also be no doubt that he’s owed a few favors. Sandoval was chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign in Nevada. Also, when he was encouraged to run against Reid for U.S. Senate earlier this year (some supporters filed a certificate of candidacy to get him into the race), he declined, reportedly saying he has a contract with the citizens of Nevada until 2006.

And the Yucca Mountain case wasn’t even his only high-profile case in his short tenure as attorney general. He made the argument before the Nevada Supreme Court that broke the stalemate in the 2002 Legislature and resulted in the $833 million budget plan being sent to the Senate without having to pass the super-majority in the Assembly. He also conducted the investigation that resulted in the impeachment of State Controller Kathy Augustine.

Yes, it’s true that U.S. District Judge Howard McKibben is 64 and is moving toward a less demanding schedule. Somebody’s got to take his place. Maybe there’s no deeper story, and no better qualified jurist in the state of Nevada. Reid, a Democrat, and Ensign, a Republican, are recommending a Republican to the seat. Since Sandoval would have to be approved by Congress, maybe the bipartisan nature of the recommendation will help the president put the robes on a judicial nominee.

In any case, when you consider that a federal judgeship is a lifetime appointment, maybe Sandoval’s youth makes him a good candidate for the position. Taxpayers will likely get their money’s worth. Once he’s approved, we’re sure he’ll do a real good job for Nevada.