The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California is facing a vacancy crisis, currently short seven judges. Having gotten to a slow start, the Biden Administration nominated its first two nominees to the Court a couple of weeks ago, including magistrate judge Linda Lopez.
Linda Lopez was born in Miami and grew up in Hialeah, Florida in a Cuban American family. Lopez worked at small practice firms in Florida during and after high school and attended community college while working full time as a legal secretary and paralegal. Lopez was eventually able to transfer and graduate magna cum laude from Florida International University in 1996. Lopez then received a J.D. from the University of Miami Law School in 1999 and started work as a criminal defense attorney in Miami.
In 2007, Lopez moved to the Federal Defender’s Office for the Southern District of California. Lopez stayed with the office until her appointment in 2018 to become a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Southern District of California.
History of the Seat
Lopez 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.
On November 21, 2019, the Trump Administration nominated federal prosecutor Adam Braverman to fill this vacancy. However, Braverman never received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee and his nomination was left unconfirmed at the end of the Trump Administration.
Lopez started her legal career in Miami, practicing criminal defense both at a small firm and as a solo practitioner. She then spent eleven years at the Federal Defenders in San Diego, where she represented indigent defendants before the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California and the Ninth Circuit.
Among the cases she handled in Miami, Lopez represented Wilfredo Rodriguez, who was convicted by a jury of a series of drug offenses. See United States v. Rodriguez, 159 F. App’x 900 (11th Cir. 2005). Lopez challenged the sentence on appeal, arguing that the district court erred by admitting co-conspirator statements and prior convictions in the sentencing. While the Eleventh Circuit found the issue to be a “close question” it ultimately found no error and affirmed. Id. at 902.
Among the prominent matters Lopez handled as a Federal Defender, she represented Sergio Caballero, accused of trafficking methamphetamine over the U.S.-Mexico border. Lopez challenged the introduction of evidence found on Caballero’s cellphone under the Fourth Amendment, but Judge Roger Benitez ruled that it was admissible under the border search doctrine. See United States v. Caballero, 178 F. Supp. 3d 1008 (S.D. Cal. 2016).
Since 2018, Lopez has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Southern District of California. In this role, Lopez presides over pretrial, trial, grand jury and discovery matters. Among the notable matters she has handled as a magistrate, Lopez was asked to rule over the enforcement of Drug Enforcement Administration subpoenas against the State of California seeking cannabis licenses, license applications, and shipping manifests. The State sought to quash the subpoenas, arguing that the DEA had failed to make the requisite showing of relevance. However, Lopez ruled against the state, ordering California to turn over the relevant records.
While several of Biden’s nominees with indigent defense backgrounds have drawn opposition, Lopez is less likely to draw opposition for a few reasons. Firstly, Lopez has experience as a magistrate judge and her record as a judge is fairly mainstream. Furthermore, she has little controversy throughout her career and has a compelling personal story of success. While this does not suggest that Lopez will not draw opposition (even the most uncontroversial nominees in the last year have drawn no votes from a sizable block of senators), it does indicate that Lopez is likely to see a swift and bipartisan confirmation.