Daniel P. Collins – Nominee for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Longtime appellate attorney and former Scalia clerk Dan Collins is one of three California nominees to the Ninth Circuit who face the joint opposition of home state senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.  His nomination moved out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a party-line vote despite this opposition.

Background

Daniel Paul Collins was born in Brooklyn in 1963.  Collins received an A.B. from Harvard in 1985 and a J.D. from the Stanford Law School in 1988.[1]  After graduating from law school, Collins clerked for Judge Dorothy Nelson on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then spent two years at the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel.  Collins then clerked for Justice Antonin Scalia on the U.S. Supreme Court, clerking with Judge Jeffrey Sutton of the Sixth Circuit and conservative lawyer Ed Whelan.[2][3]

After his clerkships, Collins became a federal prosecutor in the Central District of California, leaving in 1996 to join the Los Angeles Office of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP.[4]  In 2001, Collins left Munger to work as Associate Deputy Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice.[5]  Collins rejoined Munger in 2003 and has served as a Partner since.

History of the Seat

Collins has been nominated for a California seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  This seat opened on December 11, 2015 when Judge Harry Pregerson moved to senior status.  On February 25, 2016, President Obama nominate U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh to fill the vacancy.  Even though the Senate was controlled by Republicans, Koh received a favorable reception before the Senate Judiciary Committee and was approved 13-7 on September 15, 2016.  However, she was blocked from a final floor vote by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and never confirmed.

In March 2017, Collins was contacted by the White House to gauge his interest in an appointment to the Ninth Circuit.[6]  In late 2017 and early 2018, Collins interviewed with Advisory Committees set up by California’s Democratic Senators.[7]  Collins’ nomination was announced in October 2018 and he was renominated on February 6, 2019.

Both of Collins’s home state senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Kamala Harris, have expressed opposition to Collins’s nomination.

Political Activity & Memberships

Collins has a very active political history, having donated extensively to Republican candidates from 1998 to 2016.[8]  Over this time, Collins has given over $85000 to Republican candidates.[9]  For example, in a single contribution in December 2013, Collins gave $15000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee.[10]  Similarly, in October 2016, Collins gave $2700 contributions to Republican Senate candidates Marco Rubio, Todd Young, Ron Johnson, and Joe Heck (all except Heck won their elections).[11]

Furthermore, Collins has been a member of the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies (a conservative legal organization that is the source of many Trump nominees) since 1995.[12]

Legal Experience

Collins has primarily worked in two legal postures.  The first is at the government, as a prosecutor from 1992 to 1996 and at the Department of Justice, where he was from 2001 to 2003.  The second is at Munger, Tolles & Olson, where he has spent virtually the rest of his legal career.

Assistant U.S. Attorney

From 1992 to 1996, Collins worked as an Assistant U.S. Attorney with the Central District of California.  Here, Collins primarily handled appeals, while also trying eight jury trials during his tenure.[13]  One of those trials was that of Jeffrey Van Poyck who was convicted of two counts of armed bank robbery and one count of conspiracy (the convictions were upheld on appeal).[14]

Department of Justice

From 2001 to 2003, Collins worked in the Department of Justice, serving as Associate Deputy Attorney General.  In this role, Collins worked on several of the Department’s legislative initiatives, including the drafting and passage of the PROTECT Act of 2003, which increases penalties and authorizes additional law enforcement tools relating to child pornography and sexual abuse.[15]  To this end, Collins testified in Congress in support of much of the language that eventually found its way into the PROTECT Act, specifically noting that such language would not interfere with “First Amendment freedoms.”[16]

Munger Tolles & Olson

Since 2003, Collins has been a Partner in the Los Angeles Office of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP working in appeals and complex civil litigation.  As a Munger Partner, Collins helped recruit Paul Watford (now a judge on the Ninth Circuit) to the firm.[17]  At the firm, Collins has extensive experience with complex commercial appeals, including representing Occidental Petroleum Corp. against suits alleging complicity in illegal bombings conducted by the Colombian military,[18] defending Jeppesen Data Plan, Inc. against allegations that they transported the plaintiffs to locations where they were tortured,[19] and representing Philip Morris in a suit to successfully strike down Massachusetts regulations restricting cigarette advertising.[20]  Particularly notably, Collins represented a series of oil companies in defending against a suit by native american tribes seeking damages for global warming.[21]

Writings

Collins has frequently written on the law, starting as a law student, when he authored a student note discussing the role of circumstantial evidence and the burden of proof on a decision to grant or deny summary judgment.[22]  In much of his writing, Collins looks back to the original understanding or meaning of a law to decipher its current application, suggesting that Collins would identify as an “originalist.”  For example, in one article, Collins outlines the history of the Alien Tort Statute as a way of understanding its scope.[23]  In another article, Collins argues that the right to a jury trial is innately tied with the accuracy of the outcome, citing the debates over the jury right during the drafting of the Constitution.[24]

Overall Assessment

It is easy to compare Collins with his former Munger colleague Judge Watford.  Both were former Supreme Court clerks (Watford clerked for Justice Ginsburg) and longtime commercial litigators at Munger when nominated for the bench.  As such, some may argue that Collins deserves the bipartisan confirmation that Watford received in 2012.  However, opponents are likely to draw a few distinctions.  First, Watford had built a largely nonideological profile before his nomination, with prominent conservatives confessing that they had no idea what his political views were.  In contrast, Collins is a clearly defined conservative with his writings showing an originalist lean and a long political history.  Second, Watford had the support of his home-state senators, unlike Collins.

On his own merits, Collins obviously has the intellectual capacity and legal ability for the Ninth Circuit.  It remains for senators to decide if his record has demonstrated the requisite level of impartiality needed to be a fair judge as opposed to an advocate.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 115th Cong., Daniel P. Collins: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Other clerks that year included future federal judges Jeffrey Meyer, Gregory Katsas, and Gregory Maggs.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] See id. at 63.

[7] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] See Collins, supra n. 1 at 5.

[13] Id. at 25.

[14] See United States v. Van Poyck, 77 F.3d 285 (9th Cir. 1996).

[15] Pub. L. 108-21.

[16] Lyndall Schuster, Regulating Virtual Child Pornography in the Wake of Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition, 80 Denv. U.L. Rev. 429, 444 (2002) (citing the Child Obscenity and Pornography Prevention Act of 2002 and the Sex Tourism Prohibition Improvement Act of 2002: Hearing on H.R. 4623 and H.R. 4477 Before the Subcomm. On Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Sec. of the Comm. on the Judiciary, 107th Cong. (2002) (statement of Associate Deputy Attorney General Daniel P. Collins, on behalf of the Department of Justice)).

[17] Carol J. Williams, Lawyer Tapped For 9th Circuit, Los Angeles Times, Oct. 18, 2011.  

[18] Galvis Mujica v. Occidental Petroleum Corp., 771 F.3d 580 (9th Cir. 2014).

[19] Mohamed v. Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc., 614 F.3d 1070 (9th Cir. 2010) (en banc).

[20] Lorillard Tobacco Co. v. Reilly, 533 U.S. 525 (2001).

[21] Native Village of Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., 696 F.3d 849 (9th Cir. 2012).

[22] Daniel P. Collins, Summary Judgment and Circumstantial Evidence, 40 Stan. L. Rev. 491 (January 1988).

[23] Kristin Linsley Myles and Daniel P. Collins, Burdens, the Future of International Human Rights Litigation, 32 Litigation 40 (Spring 2006).

[24] Daniel P. Collins, Juries and the Criminal Justice System: What Role?: Making Juries Better Factfinders, 20 Harv. J.L. & Pub. Pol’y 489 (Winter 1997).

3 Comments

  1. It’s laughable that an analysis of his impartiality is even assessable for a district court LITERALLY weaponized in favor of socialist liberal agendas. Is it “fair” to inspect impartiality, of course, but war has a special set of rules.

    Like

    • Yes. There’s always a fundamental dishonesty in the way almost all of the left addresses the issue of judges and jurisprudence. Even with people as poised, educated, and articulate as the people writing this blog.
      I suspect much of that is due to the fact that the left has had about a 50 year head start in insisting on political reliability in their judges and have been much more aggressive in pursuing it *until now.*
      They really hate the fact that the same tactic can be used against them.

      Like

  2. Pingback: Daniel Bress – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit | The Vetting Room

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