The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington is the most understaffed court in the country, with only two active judges performing the work of seven. As President Biden seeks to fill those vacancies, he has put forward the nomination of Seattle attorney Tana Lin.
Tana Lin was born on September 16, 1966 in Taiwan, and her family immigrated to the United States when she was three years old. (Bob Geballe, Finding Her Voice, Washington Super Lawyers Magazine, June 30, 2016, https://www.superlawyers.com/washington/article/finding-her-voice/cd7b5581-bac9-4238-8fd5-0e190eadd313.html.) Lin didn’t speak English until the age of five, only used chopsticks through college, and faced bullying as a child. Lin received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1988 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 1991.
After graduating, Lin worked as a public defender in Washington D.C. for four years before joining the Employment Litigation Division with the U.S. Department of Justice. In 1999, Lin moved to Chicago to be a senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2001, she shifted to Ann Arbor to lead litigation efforts for the Michigan Poverty Law Program.
Since 2004, Lin has been at Keller Rohrback in Seattle. She has also served on the Board of Directors for the ACLU of Washington since 2016 and as President since 2019.
History of the Seat
Lin has been nominated for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. This seat opened on February 6, 2016, when Judge Marsha Pechman moved to senior status. On April 6, 2016, the Obama Administration nominated Perkins Coie partner Kathleen M. O’Sullivan to fill the vacancy, but her nomination was never confirmed by the Republican Senate.
On July 13, 2018, the Trump Administration announced their intention to renominate O’Sullivan to the Western District. However, due to a dispute with Washington’s U.S. Senators over the Ninth Circuit nomination of Eric Miller, the Trump Administration chose not to proceed with O’Sullivan’s nomination. President Biden nominated Lin on April 29, 2021.
Lin started her legal career as a staff attorney with the Public Defender Service in Washington D.C., representing indigent defendants charged with crimes in the District. Among the cases she handled there, Lin challenged the sentencing of her 19-year-old client as an adult rather than a juvenile under the D.C. Youth Rehabilitation Act. (Veney v. United States, 681 A.2d 428 (D.C. App. 1996).) However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judge’s decision to sentence the defendant as an adult.
From 1995 to 1999, Lin worked as a litigator at the Department of Justice, where, among other matters, she helped negotiate a settlement agreement with the City of New York seeking to remedy employment discrimination against blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women hired to be School Custodians and School Custodian Engineers. (United States v. N.Y. City Bd. of Educ., 85 F. Supp. 2d 130 (S.D.N.Y. 2000).)
From 1999 to 2001, Lin was at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, where she pursued class action suits against Wal-Mart and the Louisiana State Police for employment discrimination. The suit against the Louisiana State Police involved discrimination against women who sought to apply to be Troopers.
Since 2004, Lin has worked at the firm of Keller Rohrback in Seattle. During this time, she has made a name of herself in working with the ACLU in suits against Trump Administration policies. For example, Lin was part of the legal team challenging the Administration’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries. (See Martha Bellisle, Judge’s Partial Lifting of Trump Ban Gives Refugees Hope, A.P., Dec. 24, 2017.) Lin’s tactics during this lawsuit attracted some criticism from conservative blogger Scott Johnson after she sent him a subpoena seeking notes he took at a reception hosted by the Administration. (See Tim Cushing, Lawyer Deploys Faulty Subpoena Demanding Evidence Preservation, Fails to Impress Lawyer Receiving It, Techdirt, June 30, 2017.) Johnson, who is a Minneapolis-based attorney, wrote that he intended to fight the subpoena in a blog post. (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro, City Journal, June 20, 2017, https://www.city-journal.org/html/dont-subpoena-me-bro-15278.html.) Johnson was ultimately released from the subpoena. (Scott W. Johnson, Don’t Subpoena Me, Bro: The Sequel, Power Line, Feb. 13, 2020.)
Lin has a limited political history, having donated once to the Congressional campaign of Rep. Pramila Jayapal. (Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=tana+lin&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited May 16, 2021).)
Even though she has worked at a law firm for almost two decades, the overarching theme of Lin’s legal career has largely been the representation of legal “underdogs”: criminal defendants; and civil rights plaintiffs. Her record of strongly liberal legal advocacy, suits against the police, and against the Trump Administration are likely to draw controversy, and Lin will likely attract strong levels of opposition. Nonetheless, Lin’s path to confirmation will depend on whether she can keep all 50 Democrats behind her nomination.