Thomas L. Ambro

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Thomas Ambro
File:Judge Thomas L. Ambro.jpg
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
Assumed office
February 16, 2000
Appointed by Bill Clinton
Preceded by Walter Stapleton
Personal details
Born (1949-12-27) December 27, 1949 (age 68)
Cambridge, Ohio, U.S.
Alma mater Georgetown University
Georgetown University Law Center

Thomas L. Ambro (born December 27, 1949) is a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. He began his judicial service in 2000.

Education and legal career

Judge Ambro received both his B.A. (1971) and J.D. (1975) from Georgetown University. After law school, he clerked for Chief Justice Daniel L. Hermann of the Supreme Court of Delaware. Following his clerkship, he was in private practice in Wilmington, Delaware from 1976–2000 at the law firm of Richards, Layton & Finger. There he was a force behind Delaware's rise as a preferred venue for large Chapter 11 bankruptcy cases. Immediately prior to being elevated to the bench, he headed the bankruptcy practice at Richards Layton.

Judge Ambro is a past Chair of the Section of Business Law of the American Bar Association and past Editor of The Business Lawyer. For 20 years, he chaired the Committee on the Uniform Commercial Code for the Commercial Law Section of the Delaware State Bar Association. He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the American Inns of Court, the American Law Institute, and the National Bankruptcy Conference. Judge Ambro serves as an adjunct professor at his alma mater, Georgetown University, where he teaches a course on public speaking to undergraduate students. The Hon. Thomas L. Ambro Fellowship, awarded to support a summer internship with the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, is named in his honor.[1]

Judicial service

Ambro was appointed to the Third Circuit by President Bill Clinton on September 29, 1999, to fill a seat vacated by Walter King Stapleton. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on February 10, 2000, by a 96-2 vote and received his commission on February 16, 2000.

Among Judge Ambro's well-known opinions are:

  • Dwyer v. Cappell, No. 13-3235, 2014 WL 3893001 (3d Cir. Feb. 18, 2014): An attorney challenged New Jersey's Attorney Advertising Guideline 3, which prohibited excerpting judicial opinions in attorney advertisements without displaying the entire opinions. The Court held that Guideline 3, as-applied to the particular attorney, violated the First Amendment.
  • United States v. Gunter, 462 F.3d 247 (3d Cir. 2006) The Court held that district courts were required, under United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), to treat the crack cocaine federal Sentencing Guidelines as advisory, rather than mandatory, and could consider whether the Sentencing Guidelines's differential between crack and cocaine was rational when imposing sentences.
  • In re Owens Corning, 419 F.3d 195 (3d Cir. 2005): The Court set out the circumstances under which a bankruptcy court may substantively consolidate affiliated (but legally separate) entities for purposes of bankruptcy.
  • Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights v. Rumsfeld, 390 F.3d 219 (3d Cir. 2004): FAIR, an association of law schools and law faculty, challenged the Solomon Amendment, which requires the Department of Defense to deny federal funding to institutions of higher education that bar military recruiters. The schools argued that forcing them to allow military recruiters on campus, in violation of their policies against recruitment by employers who discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, impeded their First Amendment rights. The Third Circuit entered a preliminary injunction against enforcement of the Solomon Amendment. The Supreme Court reversed in FAIR v. Rumsfeld.

His notable dissenting opinions include:

  • Abu-Jamal v. Horn, 520 F.3d 272 (3d Cir. 2008). Mumia Abu-Jamal is an American prisoner convicted for the 1981 murder of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner. His original sentence of death was commuted to life imprisonment, but he remains arguably "the world's best known death-row inmate."[2] In this case the Third Circuit considered several issues relating to Abu-Jamal's conviction and sentencing, notably whether the Commonwealth's use of peremptory challenges violated Abu-Jamal's constitutional rights under Batson v. Kentucky, 476 U.S. 79 (1986). The majority held that Abu-Jamal's Batson claim was barred because he had failed to contemporaneously object to the discriminatory use of peremptory challenges during jury selection. Judge Ambro dissented, disagreeing with the majority's contemporaneous objection rule and arguing that Abu-Jamal had established a prima facie case of purposeful discrimination.
  • In re Philadelphia Newspapers, 599 F.3d 298 (3d Cir. 2010): The majority held that, under the plain meaning of 11 U.S.C. § 1123, a debtor (here the owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer) can conduct a sale of its assets under a plan of reorganization without allowing secured lenders to credit bid. Judge Ambro dissented, arguing that the majority's interpretation rendered a subsection of the statute superfluous and would lead to the undervaluation of collateral property. Judge Ambro's views were validated in 2012 when the Supreme Court rejected the reasoning behind the majority opinion in Philadelphia Newspapers and ruled that, under normal circumstances, a secured creditor's right to credit bid cannot be taken away by a plan's bidding structure. See RadLAX Gateway Hotel, LLC v. Amalgamated Bank, 132 S. Ct. 2065 (2012).

Selected publications

  • “Third Party Legal Opinions,” in Asset Based Financing: A Transactional Guide (Matthew Bender 1990)
  • “The First Amendment, the Courts, and ‘Picking Winners,’” 87 U. Wash. L. Rev. 397 (2012) (with Paul J. Safier)
  • “Citing Legal Articles in Judicial Opinions: A Sympathetic Antipathy,” 80 Am. Bankr. L.J. 547 (2006)
  • “Some Thoughts on the Economics of Legal Opinions,” 1989 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 307 (1989) (with J. Truman Bidwell, Jr.)


  2. Rimer, Sara (December 19, 2001). "Death Sentence Overturned In 1981 Killing of Officer". The New York Times. p. 1.


Legal offices
Preceded by
Walter Stapleton
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit