John E. Sparks is the Commissioner to the Chief Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a position he has held since 2000. Prior to this, Mr. Sparks was Principal Deputy General Counsel of the Navy from 1999 to 2000 and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Agriculture from 1998 to 1999. From 1996 to 1998, Mr. Sparks was a Deputy Legal Advisor for the National Security Council. He served as Military Assistant to the General Counsel at the Department of the Navy from 1994 to 1996 and as a Military Judge at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina from 1991 to 1994. Mr. Sparks served as military defense counsel, military prosecutor, and Chief Legal Assistance Officer from 1986 to 1991, and held various positions as an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1976 to 1986. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1998. Mr. Sparks received a B.S. from the United States Naval Academy  and a J.D. from the University of Connecticut .If confirmed, Mr. Sparks will fill the seat currently held by Chief Judge James E. Baker, who also served in the Marine Corps and at the National Security Council, and whose term expires tomorrow.
Not since Robinson O. Everett was named to the court in 1980 has someone with service as a commissioner been named to the bench. It is not unheard of for a new judge to succeed the judge for whom he or she clerked. Justice Harry A. Blackmun clerked for and later succeeded Judge John B. Sanborn, Jr. of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. clerked for Justice (as he then was) William H. Rehnquist, whom he succeeded. In 1961 President John F. Kennedy named James R. Browning, Clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. At age 36, Horace Gray went from Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to a seat on that court, from which President Chester A. Arthur named him to the U.S. Supreme Court. No instances come to mind, however, of a person making the transition directly from law clerk to federal judge.
Chief Judge Baker will be succeeded by Judge Charles E. "Chip" Erdmann, whose term expires in two years.