JudicialDemocrat-Appointed Judge Gregg Costa to Step Down From Fifth Circuit

With their departures, Judges Dennis and Costa leave behind just three Democrat appointees among the remaining active judges.
January 14, 2022
A Texas federal appellate judge resigned on Thursday, a rare occurrence that could marginally shift the balance of a court often charged with deciding the constitutionality of Texas laws.

Judge Gregg Costa, one of the few judges on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to have been appointed by a Democratic president, will step down from the court on August 5.

Federal cases in Texas go to the Fifth Circuit when appealed.

Costa, a University of Texas graduate who formerly judged for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, often found himself in the minority among the other 16 active judges on the court.

Last year, siding with abortion facilities Whole Woman’s Health and Planned Parenthood, Costa dissented from the court’s decision to uphold the state’s ban on abortions by dismemberment. He also dissented when the court upheld Texas’s exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the Medicaid program.

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The Fifth Circuit is currently considering a major challenge to the Texas Heartbeat Act, though Costa is not one of the judges on the case.

At the age of 49, Costa’s resignation is unusual. George Washington University law professor John Collins told Reuters that only four circuit judges in the country have retired before the age of 65 in the last seventeen years.

Costa’s resignation gives President Joe Biden a second vacancy to fill in the Fifth Circuit, foretelling a potential political battle in the U.S. Senate.

Fifth Circuit Judge James Dennis previously announced that he will assume senior status, a largely inactive role a rung above retirement. Dennis was appointed by President Bill Clinton.

With their departures, Dennis and Costa leave behind just three Democrat appointees among the remaining active judges.

Just after clerking for Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist for a year, Costa ran a private practice in Houston from 2002 to 2005.

President Barack Obama nominated Costa in 2011 to a federal district court vacated by Judge John David Rainey. The Senate confirmed him in 2012, and he began serving at the Southern District Court in 2014.

Later that same year, Obama nominated him to a seat on the Fifth Circuit. He was confirmed in May 2014 and began serving in June.

Costa told The Texas Lawbook that he plans to resume practicing law.


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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.