The Biden Administration has long telegraphed an interest in choosing judicial nominees who depart from traditional practice path, and, so far, has met this promise with their initial nominees. Myrna Perez, who made a name for herself as a prominent voting and elections scholar and litigator, fits into this pattern of nominee.
Born in San Antonio to an immigrant family from Mexico, Perez received her B.A. from Yale University in 1996, an MPP from the Harvard Kennedy School in 1998, and her J.D. from Columbia Law School in 2003. After graduating, Perez clerked for Judge Anita Brody on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and for Judge Julio Fuentes on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. After her clerkships, Perez served as a Civil Rights Fellow at the firm of Relman Dale & Colfax in Washington D.C. before joining the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. Perez is still with the Institute, serving as Director of the voting rights and elections program.
History of the Seat
Perez has been nominated for a New York seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. This seat was vacated by Judge Denny Chin, who moved to senior status on June 1, 2021.
Perez started her legal career clerking for Judge Anita Brody on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and then for Judge Julio Fuentes on the Third Circuit. She then spent a year working on civil rights ltiigation at Relman Colfax, where, among other matters, Perez represented the Idaho Aids Foundation in a suit against the Idaho Housing and Finance Association regarding the cut-off of funding for the former’s programming. See Idaho Aids Found., Inc. v. Idaho Hous. and Fin. Ass’n, 422 F. Supp. 2d 1193 (D. Idaho 2006).
Since 2006, Perez has been with the Brennan Center, where she has focused on suits focused on election law and voting rights. For example, Perez has part of the legal team participating as amici in a state court suit involving the voting rights of convicted felons in Alabama. See Chapman v. Gooden, 974 So. 2d 972 (Ala. 2007). She also participated as amicus in a suit challenging the at-large voting system set up by the Village of Port Chester as violative of the Voting Rights Act by diluting Hispanic votes. See United States v. Vill. of Port Chester, 704 F.Supp.2d 411 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).
More notably, Perez served as counsel for a number of plaintiff groups challenging Texas SB 14, which required photo ID in order to vote. Perez successfully persuaded a panel of the Fifth Circuit to strike down the law. See Veasey v. Abbott, 830 F.3d 216 (5th Cir. 2016). Perez also challenged SB 5, the voter ID law passed to replace SB 14, but a panel of the Fifth Circuit upheld the new law. Veasey v. Abbott, 888 F.3d 792 (5th Cir. 2018).
In other notable cases, Perez represented amici in challenges to North Carolina’s voter ID law, N.C. State Conf. of the NAACP v. Raymond, 981 F.3d 295 (4th Cir. 2020), represented plaintiffs challenging restrictions placed on felon re-enfranchisement by the Florida legislature, Jones v. Governor of Fla., 975 F.3d 1016 (11th Cir. 2020) (en banc), and defended Pennsylvania’s mail-in-voting scheme for the 2020 elections. See Donald J. Trump v. Boockvar, 493 F. Supp. 3d 331 (W.D. Pa. 2020).
Statements and Writings
In her role at the Brennan Center, Perez has frequently written, spoken, and made media comments about issues of election law and voting rights. We summarize some of the key issues she has spoken on below.
Consistent with the litigation she has participated in, Perez has frequently spoken out in opposition to attempts to require photo ID to verify voter identity at the polls. Perez instead argues that voter integrity can be preserved without restrictive ID requirements, but instead by modernizing the registration process and improving the integrity of voting rolls. See Myrna Perez, Election Integrity: A Pro-Voter Agenda, Brennan Center for Justice, Jan. 19, 2016, https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/policy-solutions/election-integrity-pro-voter-agenda.
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the preclearance coverage formula under Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529 (2013). Both before and after the decision, Perez wrote in strong support of the preclearance formula enacted by Congress. Perez was critical of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the formula and urged congressional action to fix the gap.
Perez has been sharply critical of voter “purges” in which states remove large number of voters from voter rolls en masse. Perez has called out such “purges” in Mississippi, Louisiana, Montana, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, and Wisconsin, among other states. Nonetheless, Perez has spoken out supportively in favor of efforts to maintain accurate voter rolls, and has argued that states must strike the right balance between cleaning up voter rolls and not removing eligible voters. See Reid Wilson, Advocates Fear Ohio Decision Could Lead to More Voter Purges, The Hill, June 12, 2018 (quoting Myrna Perez).
Perez has frequently written in support of restoring the right to vote to convicted felons. She also testified before the House Judiciary Committee in support of the For the People Act, an election reform bill which, among many provisions, restores voting rights to many Americans with felony convictions.
Because secure and accessible elections are fundamental to the health of a democracy, voting rights is an area of law that draws strong feelings from all sides. In investing her legal career in this controversial area of law, Perez likely recognizes that her nomination would draw an unusual degree of scrutiny and opposition.
Given Perez’s extensive experience litigating on the district court and appellate levels, opponents are unlikely to attack Perez’s intelligence, integrity, or skill as an attorney, but will likely instead argue that her record is too “political” to be a judge. Some senators may also argue that Perez’s specialized career does not prepare her for the spectrum of matters coming before the Second Circuit.
In short, expect virtually all Republicans to oppose Perez, but, as long as all Democrats can stay on board (likely with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer championing the nomination), Perez will be confirmed in due course.