A Superior native will be the next judge to serve on the U.S. Court of Appeals 4th Circuit in Virginia.
Toby Heytens, a 1993 graduate of Superior Senior High School, was confirmed by the U.S. Senate with a 53-43 vote Monday, Nov. 1.
Heytens was nominated to the bench by President Joe Biden in July. On Thursday, Nov. 4, Heytens was sworn in by Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory and took a tour of the building.
"It's been pretty surreal," Heytens said.
Carl Tobias, the Williams chair of law at the University of Richmond School of Law, said he was disappointed because he thought Heytens would secure more Republican votes.
“But he did get Sen. (Chuck) Grassley’s vote and he’s the ranking member of the judiciary committee,” Tobias said.
During a judiciary committee hearing in late July, the Iowa Republican said he believed Heytens would be a “moderating force” on the 4th Circuit.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina also joined democrats to confirm Heytens' nomination to the bench.
“I am immensely proud, and I know he will be an asset to this 4th District appellate judgeship,” said Connie Dallman Mickolajak, one of Heytens' teachers at the high school who has remained friends with him over the years. “I know that he will be fair, and I know they will be happy to have him.”
After graduation, Heytens earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Macalester College in 1997 and a law degree from the University of Virginia in 2000. He taught as an associate professor at the University of Virginia from 2006-2007 and 2010-2014, before becoming a professor there.
Heytens started his career as a law clerk for Judge Edward R. Becker in the 3rd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, and later clerked for the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. He also worked in private practice and for the U.S. Department of Justice.
He was on leave from the law school, serving as solicitor general for the Commonwealth of Virginia when Biden put forth the nomination.
Heytens said he had to resign his tenured position at the law school, but he hopes to guest teach in the future once he gets a handle on the new job.
In a Tuesday, Nov. 2, letter to the judges of the 4th Circuit, Chief Judge Roger L. Gregory welcomed Heytens to the court.
“We congratulate Judge Heytens, and welcome him to the Court, where we look forward to his warm fellowship and wise counsel,” Gregory wrote.
Tobias, who knew of Heytens from his work as solicitor general, said the vote went more smoothly than those of many other appellate nominees over the last few years.
Marc Campbell teaches 12th grade and advanced placement American government at Superior High School. He said he never had Heytens in any of his classes, but he did get to know him as the tennis coach.
“Toby was planning for bigger things even in high school,” Campbell said. “Like, he definitely had a bigger world perspective. And you could tell, even then, that he had ambitions outside of Superior. He was a very serious student, and even back then I remember … mock trial was a big passion of his, so you knew law was going to be his future.”
Campbell said Heytens’ story is aspirational.
“I think it’s an amazing success story and a testament to Toby’s work and his efforts over the years,” Campbell said.
Dallman Mickolajak said she was thrilled to watch the confirmation hearing on CSpan with her husband, Ray Mickolajak, a former principal at the high school. After Heytens was confirmed, her phone rang.
“Fifteen minutes later I got a call from him,” she said. “And every time he comes back here — his hometown is very important to him — he always comes to visit, always.”
She said his strengths are in his intellect, personality and humor, all of which make him easy to respect.
“He’s the kind of person I have never seen be unkind to anyone,” Dallman Mickolajak said. “And smart. He never degrades anyone. He will go further to encourage, to help, to show. That says a lot about his character.”
Heidi Sigfrids, Heytens' sister and a counselor at Superior High School, attended the judiciary committee meeting in July where her brother testified about his nomination to the 4th Circuit.
“Our whole family is so proud and just in awe of what he’s been able to do throughout his life and his career,” Sigfrids said.