Fernando Rodriguez Jr. – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas

Compared to the backgrounds of most Trump nominees, Fernando Rodriguez is particularly unique.[1]  First, Rodriguez is the first and, thus far, only hispanic nominee to the federal bench from the Trump Administration.  Second, Rodriguez has an unusual background for a judicial nominee, having spent much of his career in trainings and advocacy fighting human trafficking.

Background

Fernando Rodriguez Jr. was born in Harlingen, TX, a small town near the Mexican border, in 1969.  Rodriguez received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the Yale University in 1991.  After graduating, Rodriguez joined Teach for America, teaching at an inner city Houston elementary school, Scarborough Elementary, for three years.

In 1994, Rodriguez joined the University of Texas at Austin Law School, earning his J.D. with honors in 1997.  After graduating, Rodriguez was hired by Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, a Republican, to be his briefing attorney.  After a year there, Rodriguez joined the Dallas Office of Baker Botts LLP. as an associate.  He became a partner there in 2006.

In 2010, Rodriguez joined the International Justice Mission, a Christian non-profit focused on law enforcement issues (primarily human trafficking).  Specifically, Rodriguez was hired to be the Field Office Director in Bolivia.  In 2013, Rodriguez became the Field Office Director in the Dominican Republic.  He currently serves in that capacity.

History of the Seat

Rodriguez has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.  This seat opened on May 20, 2014, when Judge Gregg Costa was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.[2]  While Obama and Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz reached a deal to confirm three nominees to the Southern District, Costa’s seat was not among them and was never filled.[3]

After the election of President Trump, Cruz and Cornyn set up a Federal Judicial Evaluation Committee to take applications for the federal bench.  Rodriguez interviewed with the Committee on April 20, 2017, and with Cornyn and Cruz on May 4.  Rodriguez then interviewed with the White House Counsel’s Office and the Department of Justice on May 30, 2017, and was finally nominated on September 7, 2017.

Legal Experience

Rodriguez began his legal career as a briefing attorney for Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht.  Despite the title, the role involved Rodriguez serving as Hecht’s law clerk.  After that position, Rodriguez has only worked for two employers: Baker Botts; and the International Justice Mission.

While an associate and a partner at Baker Botts, Rodriguez practiced commercial civil litigation, primarily representing corporate clients.  Notably, Rodriguez represented Ternium, a steel supplier, in a federal breach of contract action for failure to pay for a steel shipment.[4]  Rodriguez also successfully defended a Costa Rican partnership against breach of contract and business tort claims arising from funding of a hospital.[5]  Rodriguez also practiced in state court, winning a breach of contract claim involving the payment of taxes in a property sale.[6]

At the International Justice Mission, Rodriguez primarily worked to combat child sex trafficking.  While stationed in Bolivia, Rodriguez worked with law enforcement officials to secure convictions for 26 offenders.[7]  Rodriguez similarly worked to convict 23 offenders in the Dominican Republic.[8]  In these roles, Rodriguez also worked to train law enforcement and the judiciary on trafficking issues.

Political Activity

Rodriguez has a limited history of political activity.  He has only one donation of record: a $500 donation to John McCain’s Presidential Campaign in 2008.[9]  He also served as a volunteer for Judge Catharina Haynes’ re-election campaign in 2006.  Judge Haynes, a Republican, was later appointed to the Fifth Circuit by President George W. Bush.

Overall Assessment

In confirmation politics, as in electoral politics, a sympathetic narrative is the key to success.  In Rodriguez’s case, he has it in spades.  Not only is he the first hispanic judge nominated by President Trump, but he has devoted his career to a worthy cause: helping child escape human trafficking and sexual slavery.  His work on human trafficking issues along with his experience teaching elementary school in inner-city Houston is fairly unusual in a federal judicial nominee.  Furthermore, Rodriguez does not have a history of overly partisan advocacy, or of controversial writings.  Nor does he have a dearth of experience, having been an attorney for twenty years.  As such, all signs point to a comfortable nomination for Rodriguez.


[1] Rorie Spill Solberg and Eric N. Walterburg, Trump’s Judicial Nominations Would Put a Lot of White Men on Federal Courts, Wash. Post, Nov. 28, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2017/11/28/this-is-how-trump-is-changing-the-federal-courts/?utm_term=.0f24cb9a88ce.

[2] John Council, It’s Unanimous: Gregg Costa to Join Fifth Circuit, Texas Lawyer, May 26, 2014, https://www.law.com/texaslawyer/almID/1202656477944/.  

[3] Kevin Diaz, Texas Candidates for Federal Bench Caught Up in Political Gamesmanship, San Antonio Express-News, January 15, 2015, http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Texas-candidates-for-federal-bench-caught-up-in-6039505.php.  

[4] See Ternium Int’l USA Corp. v. Consol. Sys. Inc., No. 3:08-cv-00816-G, 2009 WL 464953 (N.D. Tex. Feb. 24, 2009).

[5] See Int’l. Hosp. Corp. et al. v. Grupo Promoter Hosp. San Jose, S.A., et al., No. 3:06-cv-00266-N (N.D. Tex. 2006).

[6] See Hollywood Theatres, Inc. v. J.C. Mitchell, No. 98-11171-A (County Court of Law No. 1, Dallas County, Tex. 1999) (Judge David Gibson).

[7] Fernando Rodriguez Jr., Senate Judiciary Questionnaire 26 (available at https://www.judiciary.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Rodriguez%20Jr%20SJQ.pdf).

[8] Id.

[9] Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=fernando+rodriguez&order=desc&page=2&sort=D (last visited Nov. 28, 2017).

7 Comments

  1. Just wondering, do you know why John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) has voted against invoking cloture on Dabney L. Friedrich and voted against both invoking cloture on and confirming Greg Katsas (he voted both out of committee)? Does it have anything to do with the Kyle Duncan issue?

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  2. Thanks for the update. Do you think this is the beginning of the logjam breaking on Republican Senators coming out in opposition to Trump judicial nominees? I think anyone would agree that John Bush was a more controversial nominee than Katsas and Kennedy voted for the former but not the latter. I could see people like Susan Collins (R-Me.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) coming out in opposition to Duncan because of his ACA contraceptive mandate litigation.

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