Richard Honaker

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Richard Henderson
"Dick" Honaker​

Wyoming State Represenatative
for Sweetwater County​
In office
1987​ – 1993​
Preceded by Five at-large members​
Succeeded by New district for Sweetwater and Uinta counties​

Born March 10, 1951​
Laramie, Albany County, Wyoming​
Political party Democrat-turned-Republican (1994)
Spouse(s) Shannon Kathleen Casey Honaker (born 1957, married 1978)​
Children Three children​
Residence Rock Springs
Sweetwater County​
Occupation Attorney
Religion Reformed Church in the United States, akin to Presbyterian

Richard Henderson Honaker, known as Dick Honaker (born March 10, 1951), is an attorney in Rock Springs, Wyoming, who was nominated on March 19, 2007, by U.S. President George W. Bush to serve as one of three U.S. District Court judges for the entire state of Wyoming. The nomination was given the highest "well qualified" rating by the judicial evaluation committee of the American Bar Association. Honaker was initially recommended to Bush by U.S. Senator Craig L. Thomas of Wyoming, who died some three months later. Honaker had co-chaired Thomas' reelection campaign in 2006 in Rock Springs.[1]

Honaker never obtained a Senate vote on his confirmation. The succession of Barack H. Obama to the presidency ended his candidacy. Had he been confirmed, Honaker would have succeeded Judge Clarence A. Brimmer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Nancy D. Freudenthal, the wife of Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal, was subsequently nominated by Obama and confirmed to the seat.[2]​ ​


​ Honaker was one of two children adopted by Hayward E. Honaker (1911–2001) and the former Faola Henderson (born 1917) in Laramie in Albany County in southern Wyoming. He has a sister, who was born in 1954. The Honakers were of Swiss ethnicity; originally "Honegger," they came in the early 18th century to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. One of Honaker's ancestors was with George Rogers Clark in the march to Vincennes, Indiana, during the American Revolution. The Honakers settled in western Virginia, and most Honakers still reside in either Virginia or West Virginia.[3]

Honaker's paternal family came to Laramie in 1919 and operated a grocery store and meat market. His maternal family came to the Bighorn Country in 1915 and farmed sugar beets.​ Honaker graduated in 1969 from Laramie High School and was the first member of his family to receive a college degree. He procured his Bachelor of Arts with honors in English and government in 1973 from Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At Harvard, Honaker and the later U.S. Senator Al Franken of Minnesota (who resigned under a cloud in January 2018), washed dishes together as work-study students. Still another classmate of Honaker's was the assassinated Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan. At Harvard, he was a member of the Hasty Pudding Club.[3]

In 1976, Honaker obtained his Juris Doctorate from the University of Wyoming Law School in Laramie. He worked his way through law school by working as the night editor of The Laramie Boomerang.[3] Honaker is recognized by Super Lawyers magazine as among the top 5 percent of attorneys in the United States.[4] In 1989, he was licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court.​ In 1989, Honaker was licensed to practice before the United States Supreme Court.​

Wyoming attorney and legislator

​ From 1976 to 1978, Honaker was a state assistant attorney general and an aide to Democratic Governor Edgar Herschler (1918-1990). In 1979, Herschler named Honaker as Wyoming's second state public defender, in which capacity he supervised the work of thirty trial lawyers during a two-year stint. While he was a public defender, Honaker prosecuted a lengthy homicide case in Rock Springs and decided to open a law office there. He is the only person to have served as president of both the Wyoming Trial Lawyers Association and Wyoming Bar Association, a position he held in 2002 and 2003. He was appointed by the Wyoming Supreme Court to the bar association's rules and disciplinary committees.[5]

From 1987 to 1993, Honaker served in the Wyoming House of Representatives as a conservative Democrat from Rock Springs in Sweetwater County. Part of a five-member Sweetwater County delegation, Honaker's three terms coincided with the administration of Democratic Governor Michael John Sullivan, who endorsed Honaker's judicial nomination. Honaker served on the House corporations, judiciary, and rules committees. He did not run for a fourth term in 1992 because of redistricting. He changed his affiliation to Republican in 1994 and was defeated in a bid to return to the Wyoming House under a revised district plan. Honaker said that his party switch was motivated by his opposition to policies of U.S. President Bill Clinton. Since 2000, Honaker has maintained a solo law practice in Rock Springs, a stronghold of the Democratic Party and organized labor within usually otherwise Republican-leaning Wyoming.

In 2002, Honaker joined the Federalist Society, a body from which President Bush has procured numerous court nominees. He is a board member of the Home School Legal Defense Association. He has also been an adjunct professor of business law at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs.[3]​ ​

Abortion politics

The Senate Judiciary Committee under Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont delayed holding a hearing on Honaker's nomination until February 12, 2008. His nomination was held up in committee. Opposition also came from interest groups which support access to abortion, including Planned Parenthood, among others.​

In his legislative races, Honaker was supported by the Wyoming National Right to Life Committee. In 1991 and 1992, Honaker introduced a bill that would prohibit abortion in Wyoming except in cases of rape, incest, or the threat to the survival of the mother. His colleagues defeated the bill both years. Honaker explains that his activity post-dated the United States Supreme Court's decision in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services, a 1989 case from Missouri. The court then had implied that legislation regarding abortion from the states would be considered. In the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, the court closed the door on such proposals. More than forty states considered abortion legislation during that time.[3]

In 1994, Honaker represented a political action committee that sought to get the anti-abortion measure on the ballot as a statewide initiative. The case was reported as Wyoming NARAL v. Karpan. Honaker was not involved in drafting the initiative because he maintained that the Casey decision had rendered the measure moot. "My client, the PAC, thought otherwise and paid me to represent their views. . . . I won the case, and then the voters of Wyoming voted down the initiative" by a 61-39 percent margin," Honaker explained.[3]

At the time, Honaker said: "Unborn children are human beings, and abortion is the taking of the life of an unborn child who is a member of the human race," a statement which alarmed pro-choice advocates.​ Honaker has, however, procured support from some abortion supporters for the judicial seat, such as Robert Shively, a Casper lawyer who formerly represented Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains,[6] Kate Fox of Cheyenne, who formerly represented Wyoming NARAL in the case,[7] and former Democratic state Senator Lisa Kinney[8] and Bob Reese,[9] and State Representative Don Sullivan of Cheyenne.[10]

Eric M. Alden of Wheatland in southeastern Wyoming, a Republican former legislator who opposed Honaker's anti-abortion bills, was nevertheless quoted accordingly in The Casper Star-Tribune:​ ​ "I believe he has the potential to be one of the finest trial judges ever to serve in this state. His commitment to fairness is second to none. I can truthfully say that there is no person I would rather have as a judge on a case, no matter what side of any issue I was on, than Dick Honaker."[11]

Home state support for judicial nomination

​ Shortly before his death, Senator Thomas released a statement which asserts that Honaker "has a broad range of experience over the last thirty years in both state and federal courts in Wyoming. While his credentials are certainly outstanding, I am particularly impressed with his character and his values which are deeply rooted in Wyoming. He has the right judicial philosophy — he knows the importance of interpreting the law while not legislating from the bench."​[12]

Republican U.S. Senator Mike Enzi also hailed Honaker's nomination: "[He] will be an excellent jurist . . . He has the experience and the temperament to serve our state and the judiciary well. . . . He knows the difference between legislating—from his experience as a Wyoming representative—and judging—from all his years of court work. Since the criteria is fairness, I want to assure you, Richard is among the fairest people I know."[12]​ ​ Enzi's Republican colleague, John Barrasso of Casper, who succeeded to the seat after Thomas' death, agreed: "I know Mr. Honaker and respect him as an individual. I admire his legal abilities and his passion for the law. There is no question he is ready to fill the seat for which he has been nominated."​

Judge Brimmer describes Honaker as "very well-qualified" for the position.[13] Former Governor Sullivan, in a letter to Democrat U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts, defended Honaker: "He is not, as some have tried to portray him, a radical or person of extreme views." Sullivan said that he has observed Honaker, as a lawyer for injured plaintiffs, having represented clients "very well ... with care and concern ... [He] carries a demeanor which would translate into a classic judicial temperament and a respect for and an understanding of the rule of law and legal precedent which would position him to be an outstanding trial judge."[14]

Personal life

​ Honaker is an elder at Providence (formerly Pilgrim's) Reformed Church in Rock Springs, a small congregation akin to conservative Presbyterian.[3] In 1978, he married the former Shannon Kathleen Casey (born 1957), originally from the state of Cheyenne in Laramie County. The wedding ceremony, held in the home of Shannon's parents, was performed by U.S. District Judge Alan Bond Johnson, based in Cheyenne. Johnson first met Honaker when Honaker headed the indigent defender program. Judge Johnson describes Honaker as having a "warm and attentive demeanor to all persons without regard to their station in life." If confirmed to the court, Honaker and Johnson would have become judicial colleagues.[15]

The Honakers have three children. Shannon Honaker is the chairman of the Sweetwater County Republican Party and a trustee of Western Wyoming Community College. The Shannon C. Honaker Scholarship, created by then Representative Honaker in 1991, is given annually to a home-educated student attending the University of Wyoming.[3]​ ​


  1. Casper Star-Tribune Online - Wyoming
  2. Gov nominates wife for federal court: Nancy Freudenthal among three names on list sent to Obama. The Casper Star-Tribune (May 14, 2009). Retrieved on September 9, 2019.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 Statement of Richard Honaker, April 24, 2008.
  4. Richard Honaker, "Super Lawyer" in Rock Springs, Wyoming. Retrieved on September 9, 2019.
  5. United States Department of Justice, Honaker judicial resume USDOJ; no longer on-line.
  6. Letter from Robert Shively to U. S. Senator Patrick Leahy, July 12, 2007.
  7. Letter from Kate Fox to Patrick Leahy, July 16, 2007.
  8. Letter from Lisa Kinney to Patrick Leahy, July 5, 2007.
  9. Bob Reese, Guest Editorial, The Casper Star-Tribune, February 24, 2008.
  10. Letter from Don Sullivan to U.S. Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, February 21, 2008.
  11. Eric Alden, Letters and Commentary section, The Casper Star-Tribune, March 28, 2007.
  12. 12.0 12.1 U.S. Senator Craig Thomas press release (March 28, 2007). Richard Honaker selected for U.S. District Judge: President selects Rock Springs, Wyoming, attorney to serve on U.S. District Court. Retrieved on September 9, 2019.
  13. Letter from Clarence Brimmer to Richard Honaker, April 3, 2007.
  14. Letter from Michael J. Sullivan to Edward M. Kennedy, February 29, 2008.
  15. Letter to U.S. Senator Craig Thomas from Alan B. Johnson, October 26, 2006.

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