Judge Danielle Hunsaker – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Last July, Ryan Bounds became a first appellate nominee to be rejected due to lack of majority support since the enactment of the nuclear option in 2013.  Bounds faced particular opposition due to the lack of support from his home-state senators.  With the senators in support of the newest candidate to that seat, Judge Danielle Hunsaker will likely be confirmed comfortably.

Background

Hunsaker was born Danielle Jo Forrest in 1977 in Roseburg, OR.  Hunsaker received her B.A. from the University of Idaho in 2001 and a J.D. from the University of Idaho Law School summa cum laude in 2004.[1]  After graduating from law school, Hunsaker clerked for Judge Paul Kelly on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, Judge Michael Mosman on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon, and for Judge Diarmund O’Scannlain on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[2] 

After her clerkships, Hunsaker joined Stoel Rives LLP in Portand as a Litigation Associate, and moved after a year to Larkins Vacura Keyser LLP, where she became a Partner in 2014.[3]  In 2017, Hunsaker was nominated by Gov. Kate Brown to the Washington County Circuit Court, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Hunsaker has been nominated to an Oregon seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  This seat opened on December 31, 2016 with O’Scannlain’s move to senior status.  In 2017, Oregon attorney Ryan Bounds was recommended for the judge vacancy by U.S. Rep. Greg Walden (R – Or.), whose chief of staff is Bounds’ sister.  Oregon’s two Democratic senators, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley offered Oregon District Judge Marco A. Hernandez as a potential nominee to the White House.  However, the White House nominated Bounds on September 7, 2017.

In response, both Wyden and Merkley declined to return blue slips on Bounds, noting, in a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn, that Bounds had not been approved by the state’s bipartisan judicial selection committee as of his nomination date, and that they had not been adequately consulted.  McGahn disputed the lack of consultation and instead criticized the senators for not engaging with or vetting Bounds for several months after his name was first proposed.  Nonetheless, the Senate Judiciary Committee processed Bounds’ nomination.  However, the nomination failed on the Senate floor when Sen. Tim Scott announced his opposition based on writings from Bounds’ past that contained racially fraught statements.[4]

For her part, Hunsaker had applied for the vacancy with Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden.[5]  She interviewed with the White House in January 2018 (while Bounds was already the nominee) and again in July 2018 (after the defeat of Bounds’ nomination).  In June 2019, Hunsaker reapplied with Wyden and was selected as one of four finalists by Oregon’s Democratic Senators.[6]  Hunsaker’s nomination was subsequently announced by the White House.

Legal Experience

Before joining the bench, Hunsaker worked primarily as a commercial civil litigator.  Hunsaker notably represented the rideshare company Lyft in a suit to keep information on riders and drivers collected by Seattle regulators secret from access to media companies.[7]  She also represented investors in derivative actions and similar suits.  Furthermore, Hunsaker represented a prisoner injured in an excessive force claim against the guards who injured him.[8]

Jurisprudence

Hunsaker has spent the last two years serving as a circuit judge in Oregon, where she presides over criminal and civil cases on the trial level.  In this role, Hunsaker has presided over approximately 23 jury trials.  Among her more prominent cases, Hunsaker acquitted parents of a baby testing positive for methamphetamine of child abuse, ruling that the state had failed to prove the “knowing” element of child abuse.[9]

Writings

As a law student, Hunsaker authored a note discussing the Supreme Court’s decision in Ring v. Arizona and the subsequent Idaho remedial death penalty statute passed.[10]  Ring ruled that, where the death penalty is imposed, any additional aggravating factores leading to exposure to the death penalty must be determined by the jury and not by a judge.[11]  Hunsaker notes that this decision invalidated the death penalty scheme in Idaho, leading to a revised scheme wherein the jury convenes for a sentencing hearing after a determination of guilt in capital cases.[12]  Overall, Hunsaker commends the legislature for adapting the death penalty scheme post-Ring but adds that further tweaks may be necessary to ensure a role for the jury in capital sentencing.[13]

Overall Assessment

Hunsaker was not the Administration’s first choice for the Ninth Circuit, but she is nonetheless likely to get a comfortable confirmation.  Hunsaker’s Federalist Society credentials are likely to endear her to Republicans while her appointment by a Democratic Governor will ensure support from Democrats.


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

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Nina Totenberg and Jessica Taylor, Appeals Court Nomination Withdrawn Before An Expected Failure on Senate Floor, Nat’l Pub. Radio, Jul. 19, 2018, https://www.npr.org/2018/07/19/630552662/appeals-court-nomination-withdrawn-before-it-was-expected-to-fail-on-senate-floo.  

[5] See Hunsaker, supra n. 1 at 45.

[6] The other three finalists included two Oregon Court of Appeals judges, Judge James Egan, and Judge Erin Lagesen, and appellate attorney Bruce Campbell.

[7] See Lyft v. King Broadcasting Co., No. 16-2-26971-1 (Wash. Circ. Ct., King Cnty.).

[8] See Tilahun v. Oregon Dep’t of Corr., No. 2:13-cv-01074 (D. Or.).

[9] State v. Richelle Seamster, No. 18CR35682 (Or. Cir. Ct. Wash. Cnty.); State v. Andre Wamulumba, No. 18CR40953 (Or. Cir. Ct. Wash. Cnty.).

[10] Danielle J. Hunsaker, The Right to a Jury “Has Never Been Efficient; But It Has Always Been Free”: Idaho Capital Juries After Ring v. Arizona, 39 Idaho L. Rev. 649 (2003).

[11] Id. at 661-62.

[12] Id. at 669-70.

[13] Id. at 688.

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