Sarah Pitlyk – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri

The area in white is covered by the Eastern District

Justin Walker is not the only Kavanaugh clerk and surrogate to receive a federal judicial nomination.  Missouri-based pro-life attorney and former Kavanaugh clerk Sarah Pitlyk has been nominated to a judgeship based in St. Louis.

Background

Pitlyk was born Sarah Elizabeth Martin in 1977 in Indianapolis.[1]  She received a B.A. summa cum laude from Boston College in 1999, and then received an M.A. from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven in Belgium, and from Georgetown University before getting a J.D. from Yale University in 2008.[2]  After graduating, Pitlyk worked at Covington & Burling LLP in Washington D.C.  Pitlyk left the firm on hiatus to clerk for Justice Brett Kavanaugh (when he was on the D.C. Circuit), returning after her clerkship in 2011.[3]

In 2013, Pitlyk moved to Missouri to work as an Associate at the RUNNYMEDE law group, working with Stephen Clark (now a Judge on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri).[4]  She left in 2017 to join the Thomas More Society as Special Counsel, where she currently works.

History of the Seat

Pitlyk has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri.  This seat opened on December 31, 2018, when Judge Catherine Perry moved to senior status.  In January 2019, newly elected Senator Josh Hawley reached out to Pitlyk to gauge her interest in the judgeship.[5]  In May 2019, Pitlyk began the vetting process with the White House and was nominated in August 2019.

Legal Experience

Excluding her clerkship, Pitlyk has approximately ten years of litigation experience, with stints at Covington & Burling, the RUNNYMEDE law group, and the Thomas More Society.  During this time, Pitlyk has litigated three cases that have gone to final judgment, including one as Chief Counsel.

Notably, in her short legal career, Pitlyk has litigated a number of controversial cases, generally trying to push the law in a more pro-life direction.  For example, while at RUNNYMEDE, Pitlyk worked with Clark on a suit unsuccessfully trying to establish the personhood of frozen embryos.[6]  At the Thomas More Society, Pitlyk was a part of the defense team for David Daleiden, a pro-life activist who faced criminal and civil suits for releasing videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue.[7]  During her representation, Daleiden and his organization were held in contempt for violating a court order against disseminating the videos (the violations were based on the actions of Daleiden’s attorneys in a related criminal case).[8]

Pitlyk’s most notable case is her challenge to a St. Louis ordinance preventing any employer from discriminating against employees who had undergone abortions.[9]  Pitlyk argued that the ordinance created a protected class “based on social opinion” and infringed on the rights of Catholic organizations in the city.[10]  The ordinance was ultimately partially enjoined by Judge Audrey Fleissig.[11] 

Writings

Similar to Kentucky nominee Justin Walker, Pitlyk was a prominent surrogate for then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh during the campaign to confirm him in 2018.  Notably, Pitlyk sought to counter concerns that Kavanaugh was not committed to women’s rights, noting that he was solicitous of her needs while she was a new mother and clerking for him.[12]  In another interview, Pitlyk called Justice Kavanaugh “an exemplary judge: brilliant, principled, and faithful to the text.”[13]  In a July 2018 article, Pitlyk described Kavanaugh as having a “rock-solid record on the issues that matter most to social conservatives.”[14] 

Overall Assessment

There’s perhaps no issue as divisive in U.S. politics as abortion.  As such, any nominee with a long history of advocacy on either side of the issue is likely to face problems with confirmation.  When you add in the resurgence of the Kavanaugh confirmation as a divisive issue, it is likely that Pitlyk will face an uncomfortable (if not necessarily unsuccessful) confirmation fight.


[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Sarah Pitlyk: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id.

[3] Id. at 2.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 37-38.

[6] See McQueen v. Gadberry, 507 S.W.3d 127 (Mo. App. 2016).

[7] Bob Egelko, Antiabortion Activist, Lawyers Held in Contempt Over Secret Videos, SFGate, July 17, 2017, https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Antiabortion-activist-lawyers-held-in-contempt-11295298.php.

[8] Nat’l Abortion Fed. v. Ctr. for Med. Progress, 926 F.3d 534 (9th Cir. 2019).

[9] Jim Salter, Catholics Challenge St. Louis ‘Abortion Sanctuary’ Law, A.P., May 22, 2017.

[10] Id. (quoting Sarah Pitlyk).

[11] Our Lady’s Inn. v. City of St. Louis, 349 F. Supp. 3d 805 (E.D. Mo. 2018).

[12] See, e.g., What Kavanaugh Is Like Behind the Scenes, Western Free Press, Aug. 9, 2018.

[13] See Elizabeth Williamson, Phalanx of Former Clerks Rushes Into Action, N.Y. Times, July 12, 2018.

[14] Sarah Pitlyk, Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s Impeccable Record of Constitutional Conservatism, Nat’l Rev., Jul. 3, 2018, https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/07/judge-brett-kavanaughs-impeccable-record-of-constitutional-conservatism/.  

1 Comment

  1. The few Democrats on the committee who bothered to show up for Pitlyk’s hearing- Senators Blumenthal, Durbin, and Hirono- did pepper her with questions about her relative inexperience and previously stated views on “hot button” issues. But GOP members Senators Cruz and Blackburn effectively countered with their valid points regarding Pitlyk’s working mother status.
    Where does that leave her nomination? It’s in surprisingly good shape since her home state senators include a member of the Senate majority leadership (Blunt) and a “fire-breathing” conservative (Hawley) who, frankly, means business.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s