Anne Nardacci – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

One of the oldest judicial vacancies in the country is on the Northern District of New York, open for approximately six years. After the two prior presidents failed to fill this seat, President Biden is taking a shot with Anne Nardacci.

Background

The 45-year-old Anne M. Nardacci got her Bachelor of Arts from Georgetown University in 1998 and, after a year on the staff of Congressman Michael McNulty, went on to earn her J.D. from Cornell Law School in 2002. After law school, Nardacci spent three years at the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom.

In 2005, Nardacci joined the Albany office of Boies Schiller Flexner LLP, where she still works.

History of the Seat

Nardacci has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. This seat opened on January 1, 2016, when Judge Gary Sharpe moved to senior status. While the seat opened with a year left in the Obama Administration, the Administration never extended a nominee for the vacancy and it was carried over into the Trump Administration. In October 2018, upon the recommendation of two Republican Congressmen in New York, Lee Zeldin and John Faso, President Trump nominated New York Judge Thomas Marcelle for the vacancy. Marcelle had also been nominated for a federal judgeship by President George W. Bush but was blocked by Senator Charles Schumer. Robert Gavin, Marcelle Seen in Line for Federal Judgeship, Houston Chronicle, May 4, 2018, https://www.chron.com/local/article/Marcelle-seen-in-line-for-federal-judgeship-12889507.php. This time around, Marcelle was blocked by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand over his record on abortion, and Marcelle withdrew his nomination in August 2019. Robert Gavin and Mike Goodwin, Gillibrand Blocks Area Judge’s Nomination, Albany Times Union, Aug. 30, 2019, https://www.pressreader.com/usa/albany-times-union/20190830/281535112661040. On August 12, 2020, McAllister was nominated in a second try to fill this seat. His nomination was also not processed before the end of the Trump Administration.

In November 2021, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer recommended Nardacci to fill this seat on the Northern District of New York. See Marco Poggio, Schumer Puts Forward Boies Schiller Partner for NY Court, Law360, Nov. 15, 2021. Nardacci was nominated on April 27, 2022.

Legal Experience

Nardacci has spent her entire career in private practice, starting at Skadden Arps, and then working at Boies Schiller in Albany. At Boies, Nardacci works primarily in antitrust litigation, both in defending companies, and on the affirmative side, working as outside counsel in state investigations and enforcement actions.

The notable cases that Nardacci participated in include antitrust litigation over cathode ray tubes in the Northern District of California. See In re Cathode Ray Tube Antritrust Litig. (N.D. Cal.) In another notable case, Nardacci represented AngioDynamics, a medical device manufacturer, in a suit alleging anticompetitive behavior by C.R. Bard, a rival company. See Caitlin Stefanik, AngioDynamics Lawsuit Alleges C.R. Bard is Violating Antitrust Laws, Harming Competition and Limiting Access, Financial Buzz, May 31, 2017. An attempt by C.R. Bard to dismiss the lawsuit for failure to state a claim was denied by Judge Brenda Sannes. See AngioDynamics, Inc. v. C.R. Bard, Inc., 1:17-cv-00598 (N.D.N.Y. Aug. 8, 2018) (J. Sannes).

Additionally, Nardacci represented a debtor in a class action lawsuit regarding whether the discharge provisions of the Bankruptcy Code conflict with the Federal Arbitration Act. See Vince Sullivan, High Court Won’t Hear Bank’s Bid to Arbitrate Ch. 7 Debt, Law360, Mar. 8, 2021. The suit ended in a Second Circuit judgment in the debtor’s favor and a denial of certiorari by the Supreme Court. See id.

Political Activity

Nardacci has been a frequent political donor, having given to the Presidential campaigns of Obama and Biden, as well as the Senate campaign of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand.

Overall Assessment

As a commercial and antitrust litigator, Nardacci has attracted little controversy over her career. Barring the unexpected, she should see a comfortable confirmation before the end of the year.

Judge Sarah Merriam – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

After only about six months on the federal district court bench, Judge Sarah Merriam is now poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Background

Sarah A.L. Merriam earned her B.A. from Georgetown University in 1993 and her J.D. from Yale Law School in 2000. After graduating law school, Merriam joined the Hartford office of Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy as an Associate. In 2007, Merriam moved to the public sector as an Assistant Federal Defender, staying in the office for eight years. In 2015, Merriam was chosen to be a federal magistrate judge, replacing Judge Holly Fitzsimmons.

On June 15, 2021, President Joseph Biden nominated Merriam to the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. Merriam was confirmed by the Senate on October 6, 2021 and has served as a U.S. District Court judge since.

History of the Seat

Merriam has been nominated to a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a seat to be vacated upon confirmation (likely by Judge Susan Carney).

Legal Career

Merriam started her legal career as an associate at Cowdery, Ecker, & Murphy, where she worked alongside partner Steven Ecker, who now serves on the Connecticut Supreme Court. Among the cases that Merriam and Ecker worked on together, they represented Directors of Reflexite Corp. in defending against a suit alleging that they violated their fiduciary duties to the corporation. See Frank v. LoVetere, 363 F. Supp. 2d 327 (D. Conn. 2005).

From 2007 to 2014, Merriam worked in the Office of the Federal Defender, representing indigent defendants in Connecticut federal court. Among the cases she handled with the office, Merriam represented Michael Danzi, one of two brothers charged with participating in a drug distribution ring importing marijuana from Canada. United States v. Danzi, 726 F. Supp. 2d 109 (D. Conn. 2009).

Jurisprudence

Merriam served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge since her appointment in 2015, where she handles detention, discovery disputes, misdemeanors, and social security/benefits cases. As an example of a matter she handled, Merriam affirmed an administrative decision denying disability benefits for Dana Poole, finding that substantial evidence supported the determination that Poole’s disabilities were not sufficiently severe to qualify her for the benefits. Poole v. Saul, 462 F. Supp.3d 137 (D. Conn. 2020).

In another notable decision, Merriam ruled against the Libertarian Party of Connecticut, finding that the plaintiffs had not shown that Connecticut’s petitioning requirements were overly burdensome on the party. Libertarian Party of Conn. v. Merrill, 470 F. Supp. 3d (D. Conn. 2020).

Since October 2021, Merriam has served as a U.S. District Judge. In her limited tenure as a District Judge, Merriam presided over the corruption trial of State Rep. Michael DiMassa, accused of embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars of epidemic relief money. See Chris Powell, Corruption in Connecticut Switches Political Parties, Manchester Journal Enquirer, Oct. 27, 2021. Merriam also presided over a suit by Yale Law students alleging retaliation for their refusal to lie in a faculty investigation, in which she declined to allow the plaintiffs to proceed pseudonymously.. See Eugene Volokh, No Pseudonymity in Yale Law School DinnerPartyGate Lawsuit, Volokh Conspiracy, Jan. 19, 2022.

In other rulings, Merriam found that a Federal Tort Claims Act suit brought by a Honduran immigrant was outside the statute of limitations. See Grace Dixon, Honduran Migrant’s Rape Case Against ICE Agent Too Late, Law360, Mar. 29, 2022.

Overall Assessment

Merriam’s initial confirmation to the bench was relatively uncontentious, even though she still drew opposition from the vast majority of Senate Republicans. While Merriam may draw 2-3 Republican votes for elevation at most, she is still favored for confirmation.

Ana Reyes – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

Williams & Connolly Partner Ana Reyes, nominated for the federal district court in D.C., would be the first Hispanic woman and the first LGBTQ judge on the District of D.C.

Background

Born in Uruguay, Ana Reyes received her B.A. from Transylvania University in 1996 and then spent a year organizing against California Proposition 209 (which barred affirmative action in public employment) before joining Harvard Law School for her J.D.

After graduating, Reyes clerked for Judge Amalya Kearse on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and then joined the D.C. office of Williams & Connolly, where she currently works as a Partner.

History of the Seat

The seat Reyes has been nominated for will open upon the move of Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to senior status.

Legal Experience

Other than her position as a clerk, Reyes has spent her entire career at Williams & Connolly, where she works in civil litigation and arbitration. Reyes has notably worked on a number of international disputes, including representing Spain in a dispute over the withdrawal of economic incentives for renewable projects. See Clark Mindock, Spain Wins Pause of $66M Energy Investor Award, Law360, Apr. 1, 2021.

In other matters, Reyes was part of the legal team challenging the Trump Administration’s restrictions on refugees entering the United States through ports of entry. See O.A. v. Trump, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 242294 (D.D.C. Nov. 20, 2018); see also Court Strikes Down Trump Administration Policy Barring Refugees From Asylum, States News Service, Aug. 2, 2019. Reyes has also been active in asylum representation on a pro bono basis, including the representation of three African women fleeing genital mutilation in Guinea. See African Women Win Appeal to Deportation, Washington Informer, July 10, 2008.

Statements and Writings

In 2011, Reyes authored an article discussing her experiences working with a family that was seeking to escape torture and mutilation in their home country. See Ana C. Reyes, Representing Torture Victims and Other Asylum Seekers, 37 Litigation 23 (Summer 2011). Reyes closed the piece by noting that representing torture victims and asylum seekers was a way for lawyers “to fundamentally change lives.” Id. at 27.

Overall Assessment

While Reyes’ background in international arbitration and civil litigation is unlikely to draw much fire as a judicial nominee, some senators may look askance at her suits against the Trump Administration. As such, while Reyes is favored for the bench, she may nonetheless have a rocky road to confirmation.

Judge Salvador Mendoza – Nominee to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

U.S. District Judge Salvador Mendoza has served on the Eastern District of Washington since 2014. He has now been tapped for elevation to the Ninth Circuit.

Background

Born November 30, 1971 in Pacoima, California in an immigrant family from Mexico, Mendoza attended the University of Washington and UCLA School of Lawl. After graduating from law school, Mendoza had quick stints with the Washington Attorney General’s Office, and the Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, before he started his own practice, staying with the practice while working as a Municipal, Juvenile, and District Court Judge Pro Tempore until 2013.

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee to be a Superior Court Judge in Franklin County.

In 2014, President Obama appointed Mendoza to replace Judge Lonny Suko on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington. Mendoza was confirmed 92-4 on June 17, 2014, and has served as a federal judge since.

History of the Seat

Mendoza has been nominated for a Washington seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat will open when Judge Margaret McKeown takes senior status upon the confirmation of her successor.

Writings and Statements

While a student at UCLA, Mendoza authored a note that was sharply critical of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Hernandez v. New York, which permitted the striking of bilingual jurors from a criminal jury that was likely to hear testimony in Spanish. See Salvador Mendoza, Jr., When Maria Speaks Spanish: Hernandez, the Ninth Circuit, and the Fallacy of Race Neutrality, 18 Chicano-Latino L. Rev. 193 (Fall 1996). In the note, Mendoza is also critical of permitting “race-neutral” justifications for such strikes, arguing that the language of race neutrality allows prosecutors to hide covert biases. See id. at 204. Mendoza argues that, in the context of prejudice and hostility to Spanish speakers, Hernandez “can be seen as a continued attempt to place a badge of inferiority and continue the racial subordination of the Latino community.” Id. at 209.

In a speech given at his investiture when he joined the federal bench, Mendoza highlighted the “guiding principle” of his judicial career as “equal justice under law.” See Kristin M. Kraemer, Sal Mendoza Jr. of Kennewick Becomes First Latino Federal Judge on East Side, Tri-City Herald, Aug. 1, 2014.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Mendoza worked in a variety of positions, but primarily worked as a solo and dual practitioner in state and federal criminal law. Throughout this time, Mendoza tried seventy-seven cases as either sole or co-counsel, including approximately sixty jury trials. Among these trials, Mendoza secured an acquittal for a client charged with conspiracy to distribute meth-amphetamines in federal court. United States v. Cisneros, No. CR-05-206-3-FVS, (E.D. Wash.).

Jurisprudence

In 2013, Mendoza was appointed to the Franklin County and Benton County Superior Court, where he presided over 36 cases to verdict/judgment, including twenty-two jury trials. Notably, Mendoza presided over the ongoing litigation in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which involved a florist who had declined to provide flowers for a same-sex ceremony and was sued for violating civil rights laws. State of Washington v. Arlene’s Flowers Inc., et al., No. 13-2-00871-5 (Franklin Cnty. Super. Ct.).

Since 2014, Mendoza has served as a U.S. District Court Judge for the Eastern District of Washington. In this role, Mendoza has handled a number of high profile cases. Most notably, Mendoza presided over the criminal case against James Henrickson, charged with hiring hitmen to murder a business partner and an employee. See Rachel Alexander, MURDER-FOR-HIRE TRIAL MOVED; Judge Cites Publicity in Sending Henrikson Trial to Richland, Spokesman Review, Sept. 18, 2015. The case involved many twists, including Henrikson’s decision to plead guilty and then to withdraw his guilty pleas. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Withdraws Guilty Plea in Murders: Spokane Businessman Was Killed in his South Hill Home, Spokesman Review, Nov. 4, 2015. The case ended with guilty verdicts, after which Mendoza sentenced Henrickson to two life sentences. See Kip Hill, Henrickson Receives Two Life Sentences: Showed No Remorse For Ordering Killings, Spokesman Review, May 25, 2016.

In other matters, Mendoza granted an injunction ordering Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences to accommodate the needs of a deaf student. See Molly Rosbach, Judge Orders PNWU to Accommodate Deaf Student, Yakima Herald-Republic, July 23, 2014. Mendoza also granted a restraining order requiring a local jail to release an inmate granted bail (the inmate was being held pursuant to an immigration hold). See Phil Ferolito, Federal Judge’s Order to Lift Immigration Hold on Yakima Inmate Could Have Nationwide Impact, Tri-City Herald, July 27, 2017.

Overall Assessment

While Mendoza’s first confirmation was widely bipartisan, it is likely that his elevation will attract strong opposition. Setting aside the more partisan attitudes towards confirmation today, Mendoza may attract questions about his injunctions on immigration holds. Additionally, his law school note and his role in the Arlene’s Flowers case, which largely avoided controversy when he was up for a trial court position, may be raised again in his elevation.

Nonetheless, Mendoza remains favored for confirmation, albeit with a significantly reduced margin.

Judge Stephen Locher – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa

Judge Stephen Locher served as a criminal defense attorney and a federal prosecutor for nearly two decades before becoming a federal magistrate judge last year. Now, Locher has been nominated for a lifetime judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa with the support of his home-state Republican senators.

Background

A native Iowan from Mason City, Stephen Henley Locker was born in 1978. Locher received a B.A. magna cum laude from Notre Dame University in 2000 and a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 2003.

After graduating law school, Locher clerked for Judge John Gibson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Locher then spent four years in Chicago at Goldberg Kohn as an Associate before joining the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa in 2008.

In 2013, Locher became a Partner at Belin McCormick P.C. in Des Moines. He maintained that role until 2020 when he was selected as a U.S. Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of Iowa, where he currently serves.

History of the Seat

The seat Locher has been nominated for opened on March 18,, 2022, with Judge John Jarvey’s retirement. Locher applied to a screening committee formed by Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst and was recommended to the White House in February 2022. Locher was formally nominated on April 25, 2022.

Legal Experience

After his clerkship, Locher’ first legal position was as an Associate at Goldberg Kohn P.C. in Chicago. In 2008, Locher was hired to be an Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Iowa. In the office, Locher helped prosecute Rumeal Robinson, a former University of Michigan NCAA player. Robinson was convicted of defrauding a bank through a fraudulent loan and was sentenced to six and a half years in prison. See Tom Witosky, Prison Time for U-M Hero, Detroit Free Press, Jan. 8, 2011.

From 2013 to 2020, Locher was a Partner with Belin McCormick, P.C., working alongside Iowa Supreme Court Justice Matthew McDermott. The pair represented Sholom Rubashkin, the CEO of Agriprocessors, a kosher slaughterhouse and meatpacking plant that had allegedly hired thousands of illegal aliens. See Rubashkin v. United States, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11694 (N.D. Iowa Jan. 26, 2017). Rubashkin’s prosecution drew particular concern due to the participation of Judge Linda Reade (who eventually presided over the case) in a highly controversial raid of the Agriprocessor plant.

Jurisprudence

Locher has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa since 2021. Among the matters he has handled during his short tenure, Locher granted in part a defendant’s motion to amend the conditions of release, allowing him to communicate with his wife on matters unrelated to the case before him. See United States v. Martinez, 2021 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 179162 (S.D. Iowa Sept. 13, 2021). In another matter, Locher granted in part a plaintiff’s motion to file a third amended complaint in a suit involving life insurance sales. See Meardon v. Register, 2022 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13261 (S.D. Iowa Jan. 21, 2022).

Overall Assessment

As a federal magistrate judge with experience both in private practice and as a federal prosecutor, Locher is a relatively uncontroversial choice for the bench. Furthermore, Locher has a powerful champion in Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley. As such, the odds look fairly good for a prompt confirmation for Locher.

Gregory Williams – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware

A fixture of the Delaware legal community, Fox Rothschild partner Gregory Williams is poised for a smooth confirmation to the Delaware federal bench.

Background

Gregory Brian Williams attended the Millersville University of Pennsylvania, getting his B.A. and B.Sc. in 1990. After graduating, Williams served in the Army Reserve until 1992, when he attended and got a J.D. from Villanova University School of Law in 1995.

Williams subsequently joined the Wilmington, Delaware office of Fox Rothschild LLP, becoming a Partner in 2003. Williams is still with the firm.

History of the Seat

Williams has been nominated for a vacancy opened by Judge Leonard Stark’s elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals on the Federal Circuit. Williams was recommended for the seat by Delaware Senators Carper and Coons.

Legal Experience

Williams has spent his entire legal career at the firm of Fox Rothschild, where he focused primarily on intellectual property and commercial law. Among his notable cases at the firm, Williams represented the pharmaceutical company Ethypharm SA France in an antitrust suit against Abbott Laboratories. See Ethypharm SA France v. Abbott Labs., 271 F.R.D. 82 (D. Del. 2010). He was also lead counsel in defending Intervet, Inc. against an infringement suit for porcine circovirus vaccines. See Wyeth LLC v. Intervet, Inc., 771 F. Supp. 2d 334 (D. Del. 2011). Outside of Delaware, Williams defended Megabus in a D.C. suit for racial discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and assault. See Davis v. Megabus Northeast LLC., 301 F.Supp.3d 105 (D.D.C. 2018).

Williams has also handled appellate matters, including arguing before the Delaware Supreme Court in an eminent domain case involving the Delaware Department of Transportation. See Lawson v. State, 72 A.3d 84 (Del. 2013).

Writings and Statements

Outside of his role at Fox Rothschild, Williams has been active in the Delaware legal community, including serving as President of the Delaware State Bar Association and as Chair of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. In his various capacities, Williams has sometimes spoken and written on the law. For example, in 1999, Williams was interviewed as part of an article discussing the effect of Y2K. See The Millenium Bug, Journal of Business Strategy (1998). He also spoke in favor of electronic filing in Delaware federal courts. See Sean O’Sullivan, U.S. District Court Starts Electronic Filing; Legal Documents Will Be Available on Web, The News Journal, Mar. 6, 2005.

Overall Assessment

While many of Biden’s judicial nominees have attracted strong GOP opposition, Williams is likely to face a relatively uncontroversial confirmation. With a background in commercial and patent litigation, and a paucity of controversial statements, Williams should expect a confirmation within the next three months.

Nancy Maldonado – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Employment attorney Nancy Maldonado clerked for Judge Ruben Castillo, the first Hispanic judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Maldonado is now poised to become the first Hispanic woman on the Northern District.

Background

Born on November 28, 1975, Maldonado attended Harvard College, graduating cum laude in 1997. She then attended the Columbia Law School, graduating in 2001.

After graduating, Maldonado clerked for Judge Ruben Castillo on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. After finishing up her clerkship, Maldonado joined the Chicago Office of Miner, Barnhill, & Garland as an Associate. She became a Partner at the firm in 2010 and currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Maldonado has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. This seat opened on October 7, 2021, when Judge Matthew Kennelly moved to senior status.

In December 2021, Maldonado was one of seven candidates recommended for the Northern District of Illinois by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard Durbin and Senator Tammy Duckworth. See Jeremy Gorner, Former ACLU Attorney Among 7 Recommended for Federal Bench; Senators Send Names to Biden to Fill Judicial Vacancy, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 22, 2021. Maldonado’s nomination was announced on April 13, 2022.

Legal Experience

Maldonado has spent her entire legal career at Miner, Barnhill, & Garland, where she primarily focuses on employment litigation, representing both plaintiffs and defendants. Notably, Maldonado represented Dilan Abreu, a bricklayer who sued over workplace harassment over his race at the Chicago Department of Water Management. See Ray Long and Hal Dardick, Latino Worker Alleges Abuse in Water Department; Says Boss Tried to Throw Him in a Hole, Called Him ‘dumb Puerto Rican’, Chicago Tribune, Mar. 29, 2019. Abreu notably alleged that his boss retaliated against him for objecting to racist behavior by trying to push him into a 6-foot deep hole. See id.

Maldonado was also part of the legal team for Maura Anne Stuart, a commercial driver whose gender discrimination suit was thrown out by Judge Milton Shadur. See Stuart v. Local 727, Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters, 771 F.3d 1014 (7th Cir. 2014). Maldonado persuaded a panel of the Seventh Circuit to reverse the dismissal (the panel also reassigned the case, citing the “tone of derision” in Judge Shadur’s opinion). See id. at 1020.

In non-employment related matters, Maldonado was part of the legal team filing an amicus brief from the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in an Illinois state court suit challenging the Cook County Assault Weapons Ban under the Second Amendment. See Wilson v. Cnty. of Cook, 968 N.E.2d 641 (Ill. 2012). She also represented citizens in a 1983 suit against officials who allegedly barred citizens from expressing opposition to a local towing ordinance. See Surita v. Hyde, 665 F.3d 860 (7th Cir. 2011).

Political Activity & Memberships

Maldonado has made a number of political contributions in the last few years, including to President Obama, Sen. Michael Bennet, and Rep. Colin Allred.

Additionally, Maldonado is active in the Chicago legal community, serving on the Board of Directors of the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and of La Casa Norte, a social service organization serving Chicago youth.

Overall Assessment

As a nominee, Nancy Maldonado falls within the mainstream of Illinois district court nominees confirmed to the bench in the last decade. While her experience is largely focused on employment litigation, Maldonado has extensive experience in both state and federal court, and, given the support of Senate Judiciary Chair Durbin, she is likely to have a fairly swift confirmation.

Judge John Lee – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

Judge John Lee has been sitting on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for the last decade. He is now poised for elevation to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Background

John Zihun Lee was born in Aachen, Germany on March 30, 1968. Lee attended Harvard College, getting an A.B. in 1989. He continued on to Harvard Law School, getting his J.D. in 1992.

After graduating law school, Lee joined the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1994, Lee moved to Chicago to become an Associate with Mayer Brown. In 1996, Lee moved to Grippo & Elden LLC. In 1999, Lee became an Associate at Freeborn & Peters LLC, where he became a Partner in 2001.

On November 10, 2011, Lee was nominated by President Barack Obama for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois vacated by Judge David Coar. Lee was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on May 7, 2012. He serves as a federal district judge today.

History of the Seat

Lee has been nominated for a Illinois seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. This seat opened when Judge Diane Wood indicated her intention to take senior status upon confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

Lee began his legal career at the Department of Justice, focusing on environmental cases in the Third, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits. In 1994, he moved to Chicago to join Mayer Brown and has been in private practice since, working primarily on antitrust, employment, and tort cases.

Among the most notable cases he has handled, Lee represented McDonald’s in a trademark and copyright dispute involving a license to produce toys along the Bratz toy line. McDonald’s Corp. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., 03-C-1026 (N.D. Ill.) (Gettleman, J.). Lee also represented defendants in a price fixing lawsuit involving the sulfuric acid industry. In re Sulfuric Acid Antitrust Litig., 03-CV-4576 (N.D. Ill.) (Holderman, J.).

Political Activity

Lee has two political contributions to his name, one to President Obama and one to Durbin, both in the 2008 cycle.

Jurisprudence & Reversals

Lee has served as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois for the last ten years. Among the notable cases that Lee has presided over, Lee declined to issue a preliminary injunction to stop the closure of 49 Chicago elementary schools, ruling that there was no evidence supporting a disproportionate impact on students with disabilities. See Lauren Fitzpatrick, Case Closed: Ruling Means Schools Won’t Reopen, Chicago Sun-Times, Aug. 16, 2013. Other notable decisions are summarized below.

Edmonds Sentencings

In 2016, Lee presided over sentencings for Hasan Edmonds and Jonas Edmonds, cousins charged with plotting to attack a National Guard base. See Jon Seidel, Hasan Edmonds Gets 30 Years For Plot On National Guard Base, Chicago Sun-Times, Sept. 20, 2016. Lee sentenced Hasan to 30 years in prison, and Jonas to 21 years, stating from the bench that their actions reflected “utter hatred and disdain for this country.” See id.

Stay-at-Home COVID Orders

In 2020, Lee ruled against one of the earliest lawsuits challenging Covid-19 stay-at-home orders under the First Amendment, ruling that the rights of the plaintiff church were not violated given Supreme Court precedent in the Jacobsen and Prince cases. See Ben Pope, U.S. District Judge Rules Pritzker’s Stay-At-Home Order Constitutional, Chicago Sun-Times, May 3, 2020.

Opinions by Designation

In addition to his time as a district court judge, Lee has sat by designation on occasion with the Seventh Circuit. While on the court, Lee has authored a number of opinions, generally unanimous ones. See, e.g., Judson Atkinson Candies Inc. v. Kenray Assocs., 719 F.3d 635 (7th Cir. 2013).

One notable exception was in Henry v. Hulett. In that decision, a 2-1 panel of the Seventh Circuit rejected a civil rights suit brought by inmates in an Illinois prison who were subjected to strip and body cavity searches. See 930 F.3d 836 (7th Cir. 2019). However, in dissent, Lee disagreed with the majority that the strip searches were permissible because the prisoners themselves were required to conduct the body cavity searches. See id. at 839 (Lee, J., dissenting). The Seventh Circuit then took the case en banc and overturned the panel decision, largely agreeing with Lee’s reasoning. See Henry v. Hulett, 969 F.3d 769 (7th Cir. 2020) (en banc).

Reversals

In his time on the bench, Lee has generally seen his rulings affirmed by the Seventh Circuit. However, they have reversed Lee in a handful of cases. For example, in Addison Automatics, Inc. v. Hartford Cas. Ins. Co., 731 F.3d 740 (7th Cir. 2013), the Seventh Circuit reversed Lee’s decision to remand a class action suit to state court. Similarly, the Seventh Circuit reversed a grant of summary judgment to a union in a breach of duty of fair representation suit. See Rupcich v. UFCW Int’l Union Local 881, 833 F.3d 847 (7th Cir. 2016).

Overall Assessment

Lee comes to the confirmation process with a long judicial paper trail. With this tenure as a federal judge, Lee’s qualifications for the appellate bench are unquestionable.

However, Lee’s rulings upholding Pritzker’s stay-at-home orders are likely to draw particular scrutiny, especially as COVID-19 restrictions are significantly more controversial today. While Lee is still strongly favored for confirmation, his confirmation is unlikely to mirror his unanimous approval in 2012.

Looking Beyond the Supreme Court – the Administration Reaches a Crucial Time on Judges

Barring the unexpected, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will be confirmed to the Supreme Court this week, capping a ten week nomination and confirmation process since Justice Stephen Breyer’s retirement announcement in late January. While the Administration would likely take a (deserved) victory lap over Jackson’s confirmation, the most crucial period for securing Biden’s judicial legacy begins after.

While the Biden Administration came into office with comparatively few judicial vacancies to fill, a rash of Democratic appointees moving to senior status has created an opportunity for the Administration to leave a substantial imprint on the lower courts. Jackson’s confirmation will leave 24 lower court nominees left before the Senate, while pales in comparison to the 108 pending judicial vacancies listed on the U.S. Courts website. The situation is even more significant, given that many confirmed vacancies, including those by Third Circuit Judge Thomas Ambro, Ninth Circuit Judges Andew Hurwitz, Margaret McKeown, and Sidney Runyan Thomas, and D.D.C. Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, are not public on the site yet. As such, the administration has around 90 vacancies on the federal bench with no nominees pending. Given that, fourteen months into his Presidency, Biden has yet to send 90 judicial nominees to the Senate, the Administration will have to move fast to have any hope of filling a substantial number of these vacancies.

Consider that the Administration has failed to name a single lower court judge to the bench since Judge Stephanie Davis was tapped two months ago. This is likely because the White House is strategically choosing to hold lower court nominations, including those that may be controversial, in order to avoid muddying the waters for Jackson. This means that the Biden Administration’s 82 nominees submitted to the Senate so far are slightly lower than the 98 judges nominated by President Bush and the 87 nominated by President Trump. Biden is particularly behind on circuit court nominations, having nominated 20, while Trump had made 25 as of this point in his Presidency, while President Bush had nominated 31. Even President Obama, rightfully criticized for a slow pace on nominations, had named 18 appellate nominees by April 1 of the second year of his presidency. With the Senate having confirmed 15 judges, only five of the 24 appellate vacancies currently pending have a nominee.

On the confirmation side, the Biden Administration has run far ahead of its immediate predecessors. For example, the Biden Administration has seen 58 judges confirmed so far, and the Trump Administration only saw 29 judges at this point in its Presidency, while the Obama Administration only saw 19. However, both prior Administrations had run behind their predecessors. Both the Clinton and Bush Administrations, for example, had seen 45-50 judges confirmed by this point in their Presidency, just slightly behind the Biden Administration.

However, on average, a judicial nominee in the Biden Administration has taken 4 months from nomination to confirmation. This means that, in order to be confirmed before the August recess (after which many Democratic senators may be absent campaigning in their home states), nominees need to be sent to the Senate now. Additionally, any nominees sent will likely also run into the limited space in Senate Judiciary Committee hearings, which typically occur every two weeks and include 4-6 nominees each. All this makes the next month or two crucial for nominations. Any nominee nominated later than early May may not see confirmation this year.

To be fair, none of this to say that the Biden administration hasn’t had a significant impact on the federal judiciary. One could argue that, given the bare majority they control, Democrats have outperformed expectations. However, the Administration now faces both an opportunity and a ticking clock. Due to a large number of judges moving to senior status, Biden could easily outperform the 30 judges that Trump was able to confirm to the courts of appeals in his first two years. However, for the Biden Administration to cement its judicial legacy, it will need to urgently snap back onto the lower courts. The first step might be if large batch of nominees, including 5-6 appellate picks, hits the Senate after the Jackson confirmation this week.

Tiffany Cartwright – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington

The Western District of Washington is undergoing a transformation, with President Biden already having named three judges to the court and having the ability to fill the remaining four seats. One of his nominees is the 36 year old Tiffany Cartwright.

Background

Cartwright received a B.A. from Stanford University in 2007 and a J.D. from Stanford Law School in 2010. After graduating, Cartwright clerked for Alaska Supreme Court Justice Dana Fabe and for Judge Betty Binns Fletcher on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit before joining the Chicago office of Jenner & Block as an associate. Cartwright later shifted to MacDonald Hoague & Bayless and became a partner in 2018. She is still with the firm.

History of the Seat

Cartwright has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on January 1, 2020, when Judge Benjamin Settle moved to senior status. The Trump Administration did not name a candidate to fill this vacancy. President Biden nominated Cartwright on January 19, 2022.

Legal Experience

Cartwright has spent her career largely in private practice at the firms of Jenner & Block and MacDonald Hoague & Bayless. At the latter, Cartwright has handled a number of civil rights matters, including representing the family of Leonard Thomas, who was shot and killed by a police sniper who was responding to a domestic violence incident. See $15M Awarded to Family of Unarmed Black Man Killed by Sniper, A.P. State & Local, July 15, 2017. After a jury trial, Thomas’ family was awarded a $15 million judgment. See id. She also represented a man who was forcibly re-arrested and returned to prison after being mistakenly released early. See Gene Johnson, Prisoner Mistakenly Released Early Sues Over Re-Arrest, A.P. Int’l, Mar. 22, 2018. Additionally, Cartwright obtained a $500,000 settlement for a man who spent two years in prisoner for a homicide charge that he was acquitted on after officers allegedly hid favorable evidence. King County Pays $500,000 to Man Acquitted of Murder Charge, A.P. State & Local, Apr. 23, 2021.

In other matters, Cartwright convinced an appellate court that a trial court lacked the authority to freeze the credit union account of a defendant. See State v. Gutierrez Meza, 191 Wn. App. 849 (2015).

Writings

In 2013, Cartwright was one of four authors of a paper discussing the increasing trend for courts to reject corporate plea agreements. See Reid Schar, Robert Stauffer, Tiffany Cartwright, Eddie Jauregui, Court Rejects Corporate Plea Agreements for Failing to Sufficiently Protect the Public Interest, PracticeView Database, Aug. 21, 2013. The paper specifically references and discusses Judge William Young’s decision to reject a corporate plea agreement in U.S. v. Orthofix. In another co-authored paper, Cartwright discusses strategies for litigators to respond and adapt to juror questions during trials. See Andrew Vail, Tiffany Cartwright, Using Juror Questions During Trial to Your Advantage: Practice Tips for Illinois Supreme Court Rule 243, Illinois Bar Journal, Dec. 1, 2013.

Additionally, as a law clerk to Justice Fabe, Cartwright authored a paper discussing the increasing development of veterans’ treatment courts. Tiffany Cartwright, “To Care for Him Who Shall Have Borne the Battle”: The Recent Development of Veterans Treatment Courts in America, 22 Stan. L. & Pol’y Rev. 295 (2011). The article is generally complimentary of veterans court programs, noting that such programs work well to reduce recidivism, even if they are not widespread enough to fully serve the veteran population. See id. at 314-15.

Political Activity

Cartwright has a few political donations to her name, mostly to candidates for the Washington Supreme Court, although she twice donated to Biden in 2020.

Overall Assessment

At 36, Cartwright is the youngest nominee Biden has put forward for the federal bench and would be the second youngest federal judge in the country if confirmed. Her youth, combined with her background in civil rights, is likely to make Cartwright a controversial nominee. Nonetheless, if confirmed, Cartwright is set for a bright future, with a potential elevation to the Ninth Circuit and beyond.