Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Holly Thomas is, at 41, the youngest of the four nominees to the Ninth Circuit put forward by the Biden Administration. If confirmed, Thomas would likely be a strong future contender for elevation to the Supreme Court.
Thomas received her B.A. with Honors and Distinction from Stanford University in 2000 and a J.D. from Yale Law School in 2004. After graduating from law school, Thomas clerked for Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
After her clerkship, Thomas joined the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund as assistant counsel. In 2010, Thomas moved to the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division as an appellate attorney. She left the Department in 2015 to join the New York Solicitor General’s Office.
In 2016, Thomas returned to California to work for the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. In 2018, Thomas was nominated by Gov. Jerry Brown to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, where she currently serves.
History of the Seat
Thomas has been nominated for a California seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While the White House has not announced which seat Thomas is expected to fill on the Court, she may be nominated to replace Judge Richard Paez, who is the only Los Angeles-based judge on the Ninth Circuit taking senior status.
Before joining the bench, Thomas worked primarily as a civil rights litigator. She started her career at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. At the fund, Thomas was part of the legal team that defended the University of Texas’ admissions policies, which used race as part of a variety of factors in college admissions. See Fisher v. Texas, 556 F. Supp. 2d 603 (W.D. Tex. 2008). The suit eventually ended in the Supreme Court, which upheld the policy. See id., 136 S. Ct. 2198 (2016).
From 2010 to 2015, Thomas worked for the Civil Rights Division in the U.S. Department of Justice. In this role, Thomas represented the United States in suing the Tucson School District over court supervision of a desegregation decree. Fisher v. Tucson Unified Sch. Dist., 652 F.3d 1131 (9th Cir. 2011). She also represented the government as amicus in support of female volleyball players suing Quinnipiac University for violations of Title IX. See Biediger v. Quinnipiac Univ., 691 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2012).
In 2015, Thomas left the Department of Justice to join the New York Solicitor General’s Office. During her time with that office, Thomas helped defend New York’s ban on assisted suicide. See Myers v. Schneiderman, 140 A.D.3d 51 (N.Y. App. Div. 2016). She also argued before the Second Circuit arguing that the Eighth Amendment complaint of a state prisoner should be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (the Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Robert Katzmann, disagreed). Williams v. Priatno, 829 F.3d 118 (2d Cir. 2016).
Since 2018, Thomas has served as a judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court. In this role, Thomas presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among the notable matters she has handled on the court, Thomas dismissed with prejudice a restraining order request by musician Elizabeth le Fey against her ex-boyfriend Sam France, finding that she had failed to disclose a prior restraining order against her by him on her application. Thomas’ ruling attracted criticism from some Los Angeles family lawyers, who noted that le Fey was proceeding without an attorney and that she had disclosed the restraining order in a different place on her application.
While Thomas doesn’t have a history of controversial statements, she is nonetheless likely to attract strong opposition for three reasons: first, her comparative youth; second, her history of work as a civil rights attorney; and third, her promise as a future SCOTUS candidate. Nonetheless, Thomas looks favored to win confirmation by the end of the year and to add a liberal voice to the Ninth Circuit.