A go-to election lawyer in Arizona (and frequent legal foe of Trump Ninth Circuit consideree Kory Langhofer), Roopali Desai has been tapped for the Ninth Circuit.
Roopali Hardin Desai received a B.A. and an M.P.H. from the University of Arizona and then received a J.D. from the University of Arizona Law School in 2005. Desai then clerked for Judge Mary Schroeder on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and then joined Lewis & Roca in Phoenix.
In 2007, Desai became a Partner at Coppersmith Brockelman, where she currently works.
History of the Seat
Desai has been nominated for an Arizona seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. This seat opens when Judge Andrew Hurwitz moves to senior status, which he will go upon confirmation of a successor.
Desai is a frequent donor to Arizona Democrats, including Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, Rep. Greg Stanton, and Secretary of State Katie Hobbs.
Desai has spent almost her entire legal career at the firm of Coppersmith and Brockelman, where she has made a name for herself as a go-to attorney for Arizona Democrats. Desai notably served as the campaign attorney for Sinema when she first ran for Congress in 2012. See Jeremy Duda, Arizona State Sen. Kyrsten Sinema Staffs Up Big and Early, Arizona Capitol Times, Jan. 3, 2012. In 2016, Desai represented the Arizona Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee in successfully challenging the presence of GOP Senate candidate Candace Begody-Begay. See Ben Giles, Judge Tosses Begody-Begay From Election Ballot, Arizona Capitol Times, June 24, 2016. Similarly, Desai represented the U.S. Green Party in seeking to remove a slate of alleged spoiler Green Party candidates being run by Republicans in an effort to shift close elections. See Jeremy Duda, Arizona Green Party Files Suit Over Alleged Sham Candidates, Arizona Capitol Times, Sept. 7, 2010. Outside of the election context, Desai has also represented the Coalition of Arizona Acupuncture Safety. See Gary Grado, Acupuncture: Dry Needling in Arizona, Arizona Capitol Times, Nov. 11, 2013.
A summary of her other key cases follows:
In 2021, Desai led the legal challenge against a statewide ban on mask mandates passed in Arizona and supported by Governor Doug Ducey. See Howard Fischer, Judge to Hear Arguments Over Legality of Mask Prohibition, Arizona Capitol Times, Aug. 25, 2021. Desai was able to convince the Arizona Supreme Court of her position, as the court unanimously struck down the provisions. See W. Schutsky, Ducey’s Judges Go Rogue, Arizona Capitol Times, Nov. 2, 2021.
Desai represented Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs in defending against lawsuits challenging the validity of Arizona’s presidential election, which awarded Arizona’s electoral votes to President Joe Biden. See Howard Fischer, Judge Rejects GOP Official’s Effort to Void Election Won By Biden, Arizona Capitol Times, Dec. 6, 2020.
Desai has frequently litigated against measures that restrict voting access. For example, she was part of the legal team unsuccessfully fighting an Arizona bill that restricted ballot collection. See Feldman v. Reagan, 843 F.3d 366 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).
In 2010, Desai represented a commissioner on Arizona’s Independent Redistricting Commission in defending the Commission’s actions in a suit where opposing counsel included future Arizona Supreme Court Justice Bill Montgomery. See State ex rel. Montgomery v. Mathis, 231 Ariz. 103 (Ariz. App. 2012).
In 2013, Desai was part of a legal team that secured a ruling against newly passed Arizona statutes that limited the ability of labor unions to engage in picketing and in using payroll deductions for political speech. See United Food & Commer. Workers Local 99 v. Bennett, 934 F. Supp. 2d 1167 (D. Ariz. 2013).
In 2018, Desai represented Save Our Schools Arizona, a group opposing school vouchers in promoting an initiative blocking voucher expansion. Katie Campbell, Voucher Expansion Ballot Measure Prompts Questions on Voter Protection, Arizona Capitol Times, Sept. 15, 2017.
In the 2020 campaign cycle, Desai represented the Arizona Dispensaries Association in advising it on a legalization campaign. See Hank Stephenson, Pro-Pot Crew Shaping Up, Initiative Not So Much, Yellow Sheet Report, Mar. 20, 2019.
Writings and Statements
As a law student, Desai authored a note analyzing the Arizona Supreme Court’s decision in State v. Minnitt. Roopali H. Desai, State v. Minnitt: Extending Double Jeopardy Protections in the Context of Prosecutorial Misconduct, 46 Ariz. L. Rev. 415 (Summer 2004). In the article, Desai favorably compares Minnitt, which bars retrial when a mistrial was caused by prosecutorial misconduct that was later discovered, with the rule in federal cases, noting that Minnitt “makes clear that a prosecutor cannot avoid the double jeopardy ramifications of his own misconduct by simply concealing that misconduct until a trial is complete.” Id. at 422.
As a young nominee with a willingness to engage in bare knuckles litigation on behalf of liberal causes, Desai is likely to attract a fair amount of opposition. However, she has the strong support of Sinema, which will likely smooth her path to confirmation.