J. Nicholas Ranjan – Nominee for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

While President Trump has received much criticism about the relative paucity of nominees of color among his judicial appointments, he has outpaced previous Administrations with regard to Asian-American nominees.  One such nominee is J. Nicholas Ranjan, who is of Indian origin.

Background

Jagan Nicholas Ranjan was born in Lancaster Ohio in 1978.[1]  Ranjan graduated summa cum laude from Grove City College in 2000 and cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School in 2003.[2]  He spent a year at the Office of the Ohio Solicitor General and then clerked for Judge Deborah Cook on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.  He then joined the Pittsburgh Office of K&L Gates as an Associate.[3]  He became a Partner in 2013 and continues to serve in that capacity.[4]

History of the Seat

The seat Ranjan has been nominated for opened on June 3, 2016, with Judge Kim Gibson’s move to senior status.  While the seat opened in the Obama Administration, no nomination was put forward to fill the vacancy.

Ranjan applied to the bipartisan judicial selection committee set up by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey and Pat Toomey in March 2017.[5]  Ranjan interviewed with Toomey and Casey and was then recommended to the White House.  He was formally nominated on July 24, 2018.

Legal Experience

Ranjan began his career with a fellowship in the Ohio Solicitor General’s Office and a clerkship on the Sixth Circuit, but he’s spent his entire legal career since then at the Pittsburgh office of K&L Gates, handling commercial and appellate litigation.  Overall, Ranjan has worked as counsel of record in fourteen civil trials, including two jury trials.[6]  Both jury trials involved representations of prisoners suing guards for civil rights violations: one involving an excessive force claim;[7] the other involving inappropriate sexual contact.[8]

In another significant case, Ranjan represented Joseph Ruggieri, a Plum Borough teacher convicted for sex abuse of a student in a civil suit brought by the student.[9]  The suit was ultimately resolved through a confidential settlement.[10]

Writings and Statements

Over his legal career, Ranjan has written on and made public statements about legal and policy issues.  We have summarized his major positions below:

Medicaid and “Prior Authorization”

As a law student, Ranjan authored a note discussing the constitutionality of the Maine Rx program, which offered prior authorization of non-complying drugs to drug manufacturers as long as they offered rebates on those drugs to Maine residents.[11]  In the note, Ranjan argues that the program and similar programs are unconstitutional because they are pre-empted by federal Medicaid law, and because they violate the Dormant Commerce Clause, a controversial doctrine holding that states cannot discriminate against interstate commerce in their regulations.[12]

Legal Diversity

Ranjan serves as Chair of the Pittsburgh Office Diversity Committee at K&L Gates, and has used his role to improve legal diversity.  During his tenure, K&L Gates received a perfect score in a Human Rights Campaign survey tracking employer benefits and protections for LGBTQIA employees.[13]  Ranjan has also supported the Pittsburgh Legal Diversity & Inclusion Coalition, an initiative that seeks to improve diversity among the legal profession.[14]

Clarence Thomas

As a law student at the University of Michigan, Ranjan authored a book review of Andrew Peyton Thomas’ biography of Justice Clarence Thomas.[15]  In the book review, Ranjan posits an unusual theory: that the Justice’s life and jurisprudence, as well as the often-vitriolic response to him, is best understood by viewing the Justice as a “political figure rather than as merely a jurist.”[16]  Specifically, Ranjan argues that Justice Thomas’ jurisprudence on race is inconsistent with the originalist lens he takes with other issues, and that this disparity can be perceived as political, rather than judicial.[17]  Additionally, he notes that the Justice effectively politicized his race in his confirmation battle, stating that Thomas “changed the tone of the hearings from a sexual harassment investigation [to] a racist manhunt for Thomas by fiendish political lynchers.”[18]  At the same time, Ranjan criticizes much of the criticism of Thomas as “unreasoned, bitterly partisan, and grossly propagandized.”[19]  He suggests that viewing Thomas as a political, rather than a judicial, figure helps explain the level of opposition he faces.

Overall Assessment

In comparison to other, more controversial nominees sent forward by the Trump Administration recently, Ranjan should sail to confirmation.  His efforts on legal diversity are generally laudable and his legal career has been generally uncontroversial.  While Ranjan may face some questions regarding his description of Justice Thomas as a “political figure,” it is unlikely that this would derail his confirmation.  As such , it is even possible that Ranjan may see confirmation by the end of the year.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., J. Nicholas Ranjan: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] See id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 31-32.

[6] Id. at 19.

[7] Byrnes v. Moody, No. 2:15-cv-00570 (W.D. Pa. 2017).

[8] Caldwell v. Folino, No. 2:08-cv-00122 (W.D. Pa. 2012).

[9] See Natasha Lindstrom, Plum Reaches Tentative Settlement in Sex-Abuse Lawsuit, Pittsburgh Tribune Review, July 29, 2017.

[10] See id.

[11] Jagan Nicholas Ranjan, Medicaid and the Unconstitutional Dimensions of Prior Authorization, 101 Mich. L. Rev. 602 (Nov. 2002).

[12] See id. At 608.

[13] See Tracy Carbasho, Five Local Firms Score Well in LGBT Equality, 16 Lawyers J. 3 (Dec. 26, 2014).

[14] See Susan Yohe, Pittsburgh Legal Diversity & Inclusion Coalition to Launch Model Career Advocate Program: Charting a Path to a More Diverse Pittsburgh, 20 Lawyers J. 1 (Oct. 12, 2018).

[15] Jagan Nicholas Ranjan, The Politicization of Clarence Thomas Clarence Thomas: A Biography. By Andrew Peyton Thomas, 101 Mich. L. Rev. 2084 (May 2003).

[16] Id. at 2086.

[17] See id. at 2094-95.

[18] Id. at 2096.

[19] Id.

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