Adam Braverman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California is currently short five judges.  The Trump Administration and California’s Democratic senators have settled on a package of five nominees to fill the vacancies.  One of the Republican picks is former U.S. Attorney Adam Braverman.

Background

Adam Lorne Braverman was born in Columbus, OH in 1975.  Braverman attended the George Washington University and the George Washington University Law School.[1]  After graduating from law school, Braverman clerked for Judge Ann O’Regan Keary on the D.C. Superior Court, Judge Reggie Walton on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, and Judge Consuelo Callahan on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.[2]  In between his clerkships, Braverman spent a year working for William E. Artz, P.C. in Tysons Corner, and three years with Goodwin Proctor LLP in Washington D.C.[3]

In 2008, Braverman moved to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.[4]  After the election of Donald Trump in 2016, Braverman was selected to serve as interim U.S. Attorney while the nomination process proceeded to permanently appoint him to the seat.[5]  However, the Administration and California Democratic Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris selected another candidate, Robert Brewer, to be the permanent U.S. Attorney.[6]  Since Brewer’s confirmation, Braverman has served as Associate Deputy Attorney General in Washington D.C.

History of the Seat

Braverman has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on December 31, 2017, by Judge Roger Benitez’s move to senior status.  As the seat opened with around four months left in the Obama Administration, they did not put forward a nomination to fill the seat.

In June 2018, Braverman submitted an application for the vacancy with selection committees set up by Feinstein and Harris.[7]   In March 2019, Braverman interviewed with the White House and then again with Feinstein’s office in April 2019 before his nomination on November 21, 2019.

Legal Experience

Braverman has spent almost his entire career, barring clerkships and a few years in private practice, as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California.  As an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Braverman primarily prosecuted drug trafficking, including prosecuting the leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, including Chino Antrax.[8]  His record on this matter led to his selection as interim U.S. Attorney, where Braverman made waves on a number of fronts.

Duncan Hunter 

As interim U.S. Attorney, Braverman authorized the indictment of Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and his wife for using campaign contributions on personal expenses.[9]  Hunter responded by criticizing the prosecution as motivated by political bias, which many commenters noted was unfounded, pointing to Braverman’s approval of the indictment.[10]  Hunter ultimately plead guilty to one count and was sentenced to 11 months in prison.[11]

Border Crossings and Immigration

In 2018, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered federal prosecutors to adopt a zero-tolerance policy on individuals in the U.S. without documentation, ordering criminal charges to be filed against each one.[12]  In seeking to implement the massive increase in caseload that this would bring, Braverman asked the federal court to implement Operation Streamline, a streamlined process for handling immigration violation cases.[13]  Operation Streamline has drawn criticism from civil rights and human rights organizations, as well as from federal judges, for the over-criminalization of migrants and denial of due process.[14]  While other prosecutors have criticized the program as ineffective, some have noted that, as an interim U.S. Attorney, Braverman had no authority to push back against Sessions’ directive.[15]

Drug Prosecutions

Another area where Braverman was called upon to implement Sessions’ priorities was with marijuana enforcement.  Specifically, despite a push to legalize recreational and medical use of marijuana in the states, Sessions ordered U.S. Attorneys to pursue federal marijuana related cases, even in jurisdictions where they were legal under state laws.[16]  For his part, Braverman was generally supportive of Sessions’ policy.[17]  He also laid out a policy of prosecuting drug dealers for the deaths caused by drug overdoses.[18]

Overall Assessment

The fact that Braverman has been nominated means that he has been cleared by the selection committees set out by Feinstein and Harris, and likely has their approval as well.  That being said, Braverman may well attract opposition from the left and the right.  For liberals and civil libertarians, Braverman’s decisions to push aggressively on drug and immigration prosecutions under Sessions’ directive may raise grounds for opposition (although Braverman was generally bound to follow policy dictates from DOJ).  For conservatives, some may blame Braverman for Hunter’s prosecution and for not taking the charges of political bias among his line prosecutors more seriously.  As long as Braverman retains the support of his home-state senators, however, he is still favored to join the federal bench this year.


[1] See Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Adam Braverman: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] See id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] See id. 

[5] Kristina Davis, Braverman Appointed Interim U.S. Attorney for S.D., San Diego Union Tribune, Nov. 18, 2017.

[6] Kristina Davis, Trump Selects, San Diego Union Tribune, June 21, 2018.

[7] See Braverman, supra n. 1 at 40.

[8] Kristina David, Border Could Be Key In Selection, San Diego Union Tribune, Sept. 18, 2017.

[9] Matt Zapotosky, Dan Lamothe, Rep. Duncan Hunter, Wife Charged With Spending Campaign Money on Personal Expenses, Wash. Post, Aug. 21, 2018.

[10] See, e.g., James Hohmann, Duncan Hunter Embraces the Smash-Mouth Tactics Trump Learned From Roy Cohn, Wash. Post, Aug. 23, 2018.

[11] A.P., Ex-California Rep. Duncan Hunter Gets 11 Months in Prison, KPBS, Mar. 17, 2020, https://www.kpbs.org/news/2020/mar/17/ex-california-rep-duncan-hunter-gets-11-months-pri/.

[12] James Stiven, Mass Criminalization of Migrants is Not Justice, San Diego Union Tribune, June 22, 2018.

[13] See id.

[14] Id.

[15] Astrid Galvan, California, Long a Holdout, Adopts Mass Immigration Hearings, East Bay Times, July 9, 2018.

[16] See Paige Winfield Cunningham, U.S. Crackdown on Pot Seen As Unlikely, Wash. Post, Jan. 9, 2018.

[17] See id.

[18] Kristina Davis, Charging Drug Dealers in Deaths, San Diego Union Tribune, Feb. 18, 2018.

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