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James L. Dennis
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
Assumed office
October 2, 1995
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Charles Clark
Personal details
Born January 9, 1936(1936-01-09) (age 86)
Monroe, Louisiana
Political party Democratic

James L. Dennis (born January 9, 1936) is a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, with chambers New Orleans, Louisiana.

Education and career

Born in Monroe in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana to Jenner Leon Dennis (1901-1970) and the former Hope Taylo, Dennis served in the United States Army from 1955 to 1957 and is affiliated with the American Legion. In 1959, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston. In 1962, he obtained a Juris Doctor from the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center in Baton Rouge. Much later in 1984, he procured a Master of Laws from the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville, Virginia. He was named to the Order of the Coif.[1] From 1962 to 1972, he was in private practice with the law firm of Hudson, Potts & Bernstein in Monroe, Louisiana. He served as a member of the Louisiana House of Representatives from 1968 to 1972. He was succeeded in that position by his fellow Democrat, later Republican, John C. Ensminger, a Monroe businessman.[2]

State judicial service

Dennis became a judge on the Fourth Judicial District Court of Louisiana, based in Monroe and served for two years from 1972 to 1974. He then served on the Louisiana Circuit Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit, based in Shreveport, from 1974 to 1975. From 1975 to 1995, he was an associate justice of the seven-member Supreme Court of Louisiana.[2]

Federal judicial service

On January 31, 1995, Dennis was nominated by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated by Charles Clark. Dennis was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 28, 1995, and received his commission on October 2, 1995.[2]

Dennis is a liberal, and has been criticized by his conservative colleagues Edith Jones and Edith Brown Clement.[3][4]

Notable case

Dennis was one of three judges on a panel that heard the appeal to Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC v. Salazar, a case challenging the U.S. Department of the Interior six month moratorium on exploratory drilling in deep water that was adopted in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and the subsequent oil spill. The Fifth Circuit panel denied the government's emergency request to stay the lower court's decision pending appeal.[5] In 2014, Dennis wrote a 62 page dissent when the 5th circuit denied an en banc rehearing for a Texas abortion law, which a 3 judge panel had upheld.[6] The 5th circuit was overturned by the Supreme Court in Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt in 2016.

On January 18, 2019, in June Medical Services, LLC v. Gee, Dennis wrote a 19 page dissent when the 5th circuit refused to rehear a case regarding Louisiana's abortion restrictions. Dennis found that Act 620 was intended to restrict abortions, not to further women's health. Dennis also found it similar to the Texas abortion ban in 2016. Dennis also saw these restrictions as a clear violation of Roe v. Wade, burdensome for women who need abortions, and depriving women of a constitutionally protected healthcare right.

Dennis, dissenting from the denial of rehearing:

"Act 620 reflects its legislative environment and Louisiana’s longstanding opposition to abortions. Louisiana has legislated multiple restrictions on access to abortions, such as an ultrasound requirement, a mandatory 24-hour waiting period, and a trigger ban that would reinstate Louisiana’s total ban on abortions in the event Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) is abrogated. Advocacy groups and the bill’s primary sponsor, Representative Katrina Jackson, expressed an intent to restrict abortion rather than further women’s health and safety through the passage of Act 620."

"Contrary to the panel majority’s view, which eviscerates the balancing required by Casey and WWH, a proper application of the Supreme Court’s guidance in this case is straightforward and leads to one possible result: Louisiana’s Act 620, like the nearly identical Texas law struck down in WWH, has no medical benefit and will restrict access to abortion."

"Louisiana’s large class of poverty-stricken women would face added difficulties affording transportation and childcare for the legally required back-to-back visits, which is to say nothing of the cost of the abortion itself. Additionally, these women will be forced to take time off from work, likely without compensation, and travel to New Orleans, where they must stay overnight to comply with Louisiana’s required 24-hour waiting period. These burdens will no doubt be untenable for the high number of women in poverty who seek abortions in Louisiana, who make up a high percentage of women seeking abortions in Louisiana, and who are no less entitled than other women to this constitutionally protected healthcare right."

"Based on the district court’s factual findings, which should be affirmed, there would be an undue burden on a large fraction of women, because under those findings, 70% of women seeking abortions in Louisiana would be unable to obtain one, clearly constituting an undue burden on a large fraction of women." [7]

Dennis' dissent was joined by Patrick Higginbotham, James E. Graves Jr., and Stephen A. Higginson.



  • James L. Dennis at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Charles Clark
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

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