D. Brooks Smith

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D. Brooks Smith
Judge D. Brooks Smith.jpg
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Assumed office
October 1, 2016
Preceded byTheodore McKee
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Assumed office
August 2, 2002
Appointed byGeorge W. Bush
Preceded byTimothy K. Lewis
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
In office
October 1, 2001 – September 23, 2002
Preceded byDonald Emil Ziegler
Succeeded byDonetta W. Ambrose
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
In office
October 17, 1988 – September 23, 2002
Appointed byRonald Reagan
Preceded byCarol Los Mansmann
Succeeded byKim R. Gibson
Personal details
David Brookman Smith

(1951-12-04) December 4, 1951 (age 68)
Altoona, Pennsylvania
EducationFranklin & Marshall College (B.A.)
Dickinson School of Law (J.D.)

David Brookman Smith (born December 4, 1951), known professionally as D. Brooks Smith, is the Chief United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He was previously Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Legal career[edit]

Smith was born in Altoona, Pennsylvania. After graduating from Dickinson School of Law, Smith began his legal career in Altoona, becoming managing partner of Jubelirer, Carothers, Krier, Halpern and Smith. From 1977 to 1979, Smith served as an Assistant District Attorney for Blair County, Pennsylvania. Smith then served as a special prosecutor, conducting a grand jury investigation from 1981 to 1983 into organized criminal activity in central Pennsylvania. From 1983 to 1984, Smith served as the Blair County District Attorney. In December 1984, Governor Dick Thornburgh appointed Smith to a judgeship on the Court of Common Pleas of Blair County. The next year, Smith received the nominations of both the Republican and Democratic Parties for a ten-year term as judge on the same court. In 1987, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Robert N. C. Nix Jr. appointed Smith Administrative Judge of the Blair County Courts, charging him with responsibility to address that court's chronic backlog.

Federal court service[edit]

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan, with the advice of Senators Arlen Specter and H. John Heinz III, appointed Smith to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.[1] He served as Chief Judge from 2001 until his elevation to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

Smith was nominated to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by President George W. Bush on September 10, 2001.[2] Having been unanimously rated "well qualified" by the Standing Committee of the American Bar Association, his nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on July 31, 2002. He became Chief Judge of the Third Circuit on October 1, 2016, succeeding Theodore McKee.[3]

Smith's confirmation process is detailed in Jeffrey Lord's The Borking Rebellion.[citation needed]

Professional affiliations and activities[edit]

Chief Judge Smith currently serves as a member of the United States Judicial Conference. Chief Justice John Roberts appointed Judge Smith to chair the Committee on Space and Facilities of the Judicial Conference of the United States for a three-year term beginning October 2013. In that capacity, he led a national space reduction initiative which ranks as the federal judiciary's major cost containment measure. Smith served as a member of the Committee on Space and Facilities since 2006. Smith also served on the Criminal Rules Advisory Committee of the United States Judicial Conference from 1993 to 1999. In addition, Smith is a member of the American Law Institute, the Federal Judges Association, the American Judicature Society, the Allegheny County Bar Association and the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Noteworthy rulings[edit]

Petruska v. Gannon Univ, 462 F.3d 294, 307 (3d Cir. 2006), cited with approval in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 132 S. Ct. 694, 705 n.2, 709 n.4 (2012): Smith adopted the ministerial exception, which "operates to bar any claim, which would have limited the religious institution's right to select who will perform particular spiritual functions."

Washington v. Klem, 497 F.3d 272 (3d Cir. 2007): Smith held that under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) a "substantial burden" to a prisoner's religious practice exists when one is forced to choose between following his religious principles or giving up benefits otherwise available to other inmates versus abandoning one of the religious principles in order to receive a benefit.

United States v. Stevens, 533 F.3d 218 (3d Cir. 2008), en banc: affirmed 130 S. Ct. 1577 (2010): Smith held that 18 U.S.C. § 48, which makes it illegal to create or sell pictures of animal cruelty, is unconstitutional because it infringes on the First Amendment right to free speech.

Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, Inc., 561 F.3d 233 (3d Cir. 2009), affirmed 131 S. Ct. 1068 (2011): Smith held that plaintiff's negligent design defect claim was preempted by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act.

United States v. Tomko, 562 F.3d 558, 568 (3d Cir. 2009) (en banc): Smith used the abuse of discretion standard and held that "if the district court's sentence is procedurally sound, we will affirm it unless no reasonable sentencing court would have imposed the same sentence on that particular defendant for the reasons the district court provided."

Greene v. Palakovich, 606 F.3d 85 (3d Cir. 2010), aff'd sub nom. Greene v. Fisher, 132 S. Ct. 38 (2011): Smith held that the phrase "clearly established Federal law" in 28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1) refers to Supreme Court decisions which existed at the time of the relevant state-court decision.

J.S. ex rel. Snyder v. Blue Mountain Sch. Dist., 659 F.3d 915 (3d Cir. 2011) (en banc) (concurring), cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1097 (2012): Smith would hold that Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, 393 U.S. 503 (1969), does not apply to J.S.'s speech, which occurred off of his high school campus.

NLRB v. New Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation, 719 F.3d 203 (3d Cir. 2013), abrogated by Noel Canning v. NLRB, 134 S. Ct. 2550 (2014), rehearing granted (Aug. 11, 2014): Smith held that the phrase “Recess of the Senate” in the Recess Appointments Clause “refers to only intersession breaks” and that one NLRB member was invalidly appointed during an intrasession break.

B.H. ex rel. Hawk v. Easton Area Sch. Dist., 725 F.3d 293 (3d Cir. 2013) (en banc): Smith, writing for the en banc majority, held that school district’s ban on wearing a bracelet that could plausibly be commenting upon political or social issues violated the First Amendment rights of the students.

King v. Governor of the State of New Jersey, 767 F.3d 216 (3d Cir. 2014): Smith held that New Jersey’s prohibition on counselors engaging in sexual orientation change efforts therapy did not violate the First Amendment or the Free Exercise Clause, and that the statute was not void for vagueness or impermissibly overbroad.

In re Nat'l Football League Players Concussion Injury Litig., 775 F.3d 570 (3d Cir. 2014): Smith held, as a matter of first impression, that only orders granting or denying class-action certification pursuant to Rule 23(c)(1) are subject to appellate jurisdiction under Rule 23(f).

Manning v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith, Inc., 772 F.3d 158 (3d Cir. 2014), aff'd, 136 S. Ct. 1562 (2016): Smith held that the exclusive jurisdiction provision, §27, of the Exchange Act is coextensive with 28 U.S. C. § 1331, the general federal-question statute, and that there was no federal question jurisdiction under either provision because establishing a violation of the federal securities regulation was not an element of the plaintiffs' state law claims.

In April 2017, Smith found that the parents of a mentally ill prisoner who had committed suicide after being segregated into solitary confinement could sue for unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment.[4][5]

Knick v. Twp. of Scott, 862 F.3d 310, 327 (3d Cir. 2017) (declining to overlook Williamson County's prudential doctrine), rev'd, 139 S. Ct. 2162 (2019) (overruling the state litigation requirement of Williamson County).

Agre v. Wolf, 284 F. Supp. 3d 591 (E.D. Pa. 2018) (holding that Plaintiffs' claim that the Pennsylvania redistricting plan violated the Elections Clause of the United States Constitution is non-justiciable).

In re: Petition of Frescati Shipping Co., 886 F.3d 291 (3d Cir. 2018), cert. granted, CITGO Asphalt Ref. Co. v. Frescati Shipping Co., 139 S. Ct. 1599 (2019).


Since 2008, Smith has served as an Adjunct Professor at Penn State Law, where he teaches Class Actions and Complex Litigation. In addition, he has been a speaker or a faculty member in academic programs offered by foreign law schools. He also has served as a trustee in the past for more than a decade at Saint Francis University and then for a five-year period at Mount Aloysius College.


Smith was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Mount Aloysius College in 2012. He has been named an Alumni Fellow by the Penn State Alumni Association, and was given the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2017, the highest honor bestowed by Penn State on an alumnus. He was named the Person of the Year by the Blair and Bedford County Central Labor Council in 1997 and after assisting in an investigation into organized crime in the early 1980s, received a Commendation from the Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police.


  1. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,260, 100th Cong. (1988).
  2. ^ Pres. Nom. 1,005, 107th Cong. (2002).
  3. ^ "Press Release: "JUDGE SMITH TO SUCCEED CHIEF JUDGE McKEE AS CHIEF JUDGE OF THE THIRD CIRCUIT", United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, September 30, 2016" (PDF).
  4. ^ Note, Recent Case: Third Circuit Holds Parents of Mentally Ill Young Man Held in Solitary Confinement Stated Claims of Cruel and Unusual Punishment, 131 Harv. L. Rev. 1481 (2018).
  5. ^ Palakovic v. Wetzel, 854 F.3d 209 (3d Cir. 2017).

External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by
Carol Los Mansmann
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Kim R. Gibson
Preceded by
Donald Emil Ziegler
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
Donetta W. Ambrose
Preceded by
Timothy K. Lewis
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Preceded by
Theodore McKee
Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit