In 2021, D.C. Superior Court Judge Florence Pan joined the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. With Jackson now joining the Supreme Court, Pan has been tapped to replace her on the appellate bench.
Born in 1966, Florence Yu Pan graduated summa cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania in 1988 and then received her J.D. cum laude from Stanford Law School in 1993.
After graduating, Pan clerked for Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit before joining the Department of Justice as a Bristow Fellow in the Office of the Solicitor General. Pan then worked in the Department of Treasury between 1998 and 1999.
In 1999, Pan became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia. She stayed with the office until her appointment by President Obama to the D.C. Superior Court in 2009.
On April 28, 2016, Pan was nominated by President Barack Obama to become a U.S. District Judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Reggie Walton. However, her nomination was not processed by the U.S. Senate, which was then under Republican control, and after President Donald Trump was elected, he nominated Dabney Freidrich to fill the vacancy.
On March 24, 2021, President Biden renominated Pan to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, replacing Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who was being elevated to the D.C. Circuit. Pan was confirmed 68-30 on September 22, 2021 and has served on the court since.
History of the Seat
The seat Pan has been nominated for will open upon the end of the current Supreme Court term, when Judge Ketanji Jackson will leave her seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to replace Justice Stephen Breyer.
Pan started her legal career as a clerk to Judge Michael Mukasey on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and then for Judge Ralph Winter on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Since then, Pan worked for the federal government until her appointment to the D.C. Superior Court, going from the Department of Justice to the Department of the Treasury to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. During her tenure, Pan tried around forty cases, half of which were jury trials.
Among the significant matters that she worked on, Pan argued before the en banc D.C. Circuit in support of the police partially unzipping the jacket of a suspect during a Terry stop. See U.S. v. Askew, 529 F.3d 1119 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (en banc). The D.C. Circuit ruled against her on the issue, finding that the facts surrounding the stop did not create reasonable suspicion for unzipping the jacket. See id.
Pan also argued in front of the D.C. Court of Appeals in defending a conviction against a defendant alleging an insanity defense to killing her child. See McNeil v. United States, 933 A.2d 354 (D.C. 2007). The D.C. Court of Appeals overturned the conviction, finding that the prosecutor below improperly used the defendant’s invocation of her Miranda rights to argue that she was sane. See id. at 369.
From 2009 to 2021, Pan has served as a Judge on the D.C. Superior Court. She started her time in the court on a Felony docket, but has since served on the Family, Misdemeanor, and Civil dockets as well.
While serving on the Felony docket, Pan presided over a number of prosecutions of violent offenders, frequently handing out significant sentences, including a 15-year-sentence for a man who assaulted a victim in LeDroit Park, a 12-year-sentence for a man who stabbed the victim in Southeast D.C., and a 60-year-sentence to Antwon Pitt, who sexually assaulted a woman in Southeast D.C. as part of two home invasions. On the civil side, Pan dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Center for Inquiry against Walmart for selling homeopathic medicines.
In her twelve years on the bench, a handful of Pan’s rulings have been reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals. In two cases, Pan presided over convictions for assault with significant bodily injury that were reversed because the Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence of significant injury. Compare In re D.P., 122 A.3d 903 (D.C. 2015) with Quintanilla v. United States, 62 A.3d 1261 (D.C. 2013). On the civil side, in 2020, the D.C. Court of Appeals reversed Pan’s decision not to award treble damages in a wage-and-hour suit, finding that she had no discretion not to award the damages. Sivaraman v. Guizzetti & Associates., 228 A.3d 1066 (D.C. 2020).
Since September 23, 2021, Pan has been a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Despite her relatively brief tenure on the court, Pan has nonetheless handled a number of prominent cases.
Most notably, Pan has sentenced a number of defendants as part of the January 6 prosecutions. For example, she sentenced James Wayne Entrekin, who plead guilty of entering the Capitol without permission, to 45 days in jail, rejecting a prosecutorial request for 105 days in jail and a defense request for probation. See Marisa Sarnoff, Man Who Dressed as ‘Captain Moroni’ from Mormon Sacred Text on Jan. 6 Tells Judge He Still Believes Election Results Were ‘Tampered’ With, Gets Jail Time, Newstex Blogs, May 6, 2022.
Among other matters, Pan denied an emergency injunction to Philip Morris, who was seeking to challenge an FDA regulation on cigarette warning labels, ruling that there was no imminent harm as the regulation would not kick in for another year. See Lauren Berg, Philip Morris Can’t Block Cig Warning Rule Set For Late 2022, Law360, Oct. 27, 2021. Pan also granted a request by the State of Washington to pause a lawsuit alleging that the state permitted a monopoly on gambling activity in the state. See Humberto J. Rocha, DC Judge Pauses Tribal ‘Monopoly’ Suit for Washington State, Law360, Mar. 17, 2022. She subsequently transferred the lawsuit to the Western District of Washington, ruling that she lacked personal jurisdiction over the state defendants. See Khorri Atkinson, DC Judge Lacks Jurisdiction in Tribal Gambling Monopoly Suit, Law360, Apr. 28, 2022.
Pan made a $500 contribution to the Presidential Campaign of John Kerry in 2004, her only contribution of record. Center for Responsive Politics, https://www.opensecrets.org/donor-lookup/results?name=florence+pan&cycle=&state=&zip=&employ=&cand= (last visited Apr. 1, 2021).
Pan’s 68-30 confirmation in 2021 was a landslide by the standards that most Biden Administration nominees have seen. Her nomination to the D.C. Circuit is likely intended to produce a similar comfortable confirmation for a seat that Administration must fill. While Pan is likely to face significantly more opposition for this seat, she will nonetheless likely be confirmed without too much controversy.