Julie Rikelman – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

One of the foremost advocates for legal protections for a woman’s right to choose, Julie Rikelman, has been tapped for an appellate seat on the First Circuit.

Background

A native of the Ukraine, Rikelman was born in Kyiv in 1972 and immigrated to the United States in 1979. Rikelman attended Harvard College, getting her B.A. in 1993 and then her J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1997. Rikelman then clerked for Justice Dana Fabe on the Alaska Supreme Court and then for Judge Morton Ira Greenberg on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

After her clerkships, Rikelman joined the Center for Reproductive Rights as a Blackmun Fellow. After her fellowship, she joined Feldman & Orlansky in Anchorage. In 2006, Rikelman returned to New York to join Simpson Thatcher & Bartlett and after two years there, she joined the litigation team at NBC Universal.

In 2011, Rikelman became senior litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Rikelman has been nominated for a vacancy on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. This seat opened when Judge Sandra Lea Lynch announced her desire to take senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Experience

Outside her clerkships, Rikelman started her legal career as a fellow at the Center for Reproductive Rights. During her fellowship, Rikelman represented Victoria, who sued Terrebonne Parish for failure to obtain a timely abortion while she was incarcerated. See Victoria W. v. Larpenter, 205 F. Supp. 2d 580 (E.D. La. 2002). Rikelman also notably assisted Priscilla J. Smith in successfully overturning a state hospital’s taking of mandatory drug tests from pregnant women as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. See Ferguson v. City of Charleston, 532 U.S. 67 (2001).

After her fellowship, Rikelman shifted to Anchorage where she represented Friends of Mark Begich, who was running for Mayor of Anchorage, in a suit challenging ballot placement in the election. See DeNardo v. Municipality of Anchorage, 105 P.3d 136 (Alas. 2005). Rikelman then shifted to New York where she represented NBC employees sued by Doug Copp for allegedly defamatory statements they made about him. See Copp v. Ramirez, 62 A.D.3d 23 (N.Y. App. Div. 2009).

Since 2011, Rikelman has worked on abortion rights litigation at the Center for Reproductive Rights. Among her notable cases, she has handled the following:

  • A First Amendment challenge to informed consent provisions for abortion in Texas. See Tex. Med. Providers Performing Abortion Servs. v. Lakey, 667 F.3d 570 (5th Cir. 2012).
  • A First Amendment challenge to North Carolina laws requiring pregnant women to be informed about the state’s preference for childbirth over abortion. Stuart v. Loomis, 992 F. Supp. 2d 585 (M.D.N.C. 2014).
  • A Fourteenth Amendment challenge to restrictions on reproductive medications in Arizona. See Planned Parenthood Ariz., Inc. v. Humble, 753 F.3d 905 (9th Cir. 2014).
  • A challenge to a Mississippi requirement that abortion clinics have “admitting privileges” with local hospitals as an “undue burden” to the right to choose. Jackson Women’s Health Org. v. Currier, 760 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2014).
  • A First Amendment challenge to a North Carolina law requiring that physicians perform an ultrasound, display the sonogram, and describe the fetus to women seeking abortions. Stuart v. Camnitz, 774 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2014).
  • A challenge to North Carolina’s 20-week abortion ban. Bryant v. Woodall, 306 F. Supp. 3d 611 (M.D.N.C. 2019).
  • A challenge to South Carolina’s exclusion of Planned Parenthood from Medicaid providers. Planned Parenthood S. Atl. v. Baker, 941 F.3d 687 (4th Cir. 2019).

Most notably, Rikelman argued two notable abortion cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. In 2019, Rikelman argued that the Constitution prohibited a Louisiana law requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges in local hospitals. See June Medical Servs. LLC v. Russo, 591 U.S. __ (2020). The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 vote, agreed and reversed a judgment in favor of the state. See id. Two years later, Rikelman argued that the Court should not overturn Roe v. Wade. The Court, however, with Justice Amy Coney Barrett replacing Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, overturned Roe v. Wade. See Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, 597 U.S. ___ (2022).

Writings

In her role at the Center for Reproductive Rights, Rikelman has frequently spoken out on abortion rights. For example, in 2017, Rikelman was a panelist on a Woman’s Reproductive Rights panel at Rutgers University. See Panel Five: Women’s Reproductive Rights and Health: Beijing+20, 38 Women’s Rights L. Rep. 304 (Spring/Summer 2017). In her remarks, Rikelman criticized abortion restrictions being passed across the country for limiting “access to safe and legal abortion.” See id. at 305.

Rikelman has also frequently commenting in opposition to abortion restrictions in the media and in favor of decisions protecting abortion rights. For example, she praised a decision by Judge B. Lynn Winmill to strike down Idaho’s “fetal pain” bill, noting: “Today’s ruling has overturned a legislative assault by politicians who seek to interfere with [a woman’s] decision and deny women this fundamental right.” See Rebecca Boone, Idaho First State to Have Fetal Pain Law Rejected, A.P. Online, Mar. 8, 2013 (quoting Julie Rikelman). Similarly, Rikelman criticized Mississippi restrictions requiring abortion clinics to have “admission privileges,” stating: “There’s no medical justification; states should not be able to restrict a constitutional right based on pretext.” See Sophie Novack, Mississippi’s Only Abortion Clinic Will Remain Open, National Journal, July 29, 2014 (quoting Julie Rikelman).

Outside the abortion context, Rikelman authored a law review article discussing appellate decisions permitting mandatory blood collection for DNA testing under the Fourth Amendment, arguing that such mandatory collection was prohibited by the Constitution. See Julie Rikelman, Justifying Forcible DNA Testing Schemes Under the Special Needs Exception to the Fourth Amendment: A Dangerous Precedent, 59 Baylor L. Rev. 41 (Winter 2007).

Overall Assessment

Out of all of Biden’s appellate nominees, Rikelman is likely one of the most controversial. This is not necessarily based on concerns about her qualifications, intellect, or temperament. However, Rikelman has spent the last decade working in one of the most contentious legal issues in today’s environment: abortion rights. As such, Rikelman’s nomination will likely turn on whether she can retain support from all fifty Senate Democrats. While she is still (slightly) favored to get confirmed, it is possible that the senate calendar may claim Rikelman’s nomination as a casualty.

Judge Todd Edelman – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia

In 2016, D.C. Superior Court Judge Todd Edelman was nominated for a federal judgeship on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia but was not processed by the Republican-controlled Senate. Today, Edelman faces a short window for confirmation before the end of the Congress.

Background

Born January 16, 1968 in St. Louis Missouri, Todd Eric Edelman graduated cum laude from the Yale University in 1990 and then received his J.D. from the N.Y.U. School of Law in 1994.

After graduating, Edelman clerked for Judge William Bryant on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia before joining the Georgetown University Law Center as a E. Barrett Prettyman Fellow. Edelman then joined the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.

In 2005, he joined Bredhoff & Kaiser PLLC and in 2008, became a visiting associate professor at the Georgetown University Law Center. He was appointed by President Obama to the D.C. Superior Court in 2010.

On April 28, 2016, Edelman 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 Richard Roberts. However, his nomination was not processed by the U.S. Senate, which was then under Republican control, and after President Donald Trump was elected, he filled the vacancy with Carl Nichols.

History of the Seat

The seat Edelman has been nominated for opens with the elevation of Judge Florence Pan to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

Legal Experience

Edelman started his legal career as a clerk to Judge William Bryant on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Edelman then spent two years at the Georgetown University Law Center, where he worked in their Criminal Justice Clinic.

Starting in 1997, Edelman spent eight years as a public defender in Washington D.C., representing indigent defendants in approximately 30 to 35 jury trials, among other proceedings. Notably, Edelman represented a defendant in his second murder trial in Washington D.C., which concluded with an acquittal on the primary charge of murder. See Benn v. United States, 978 A.2d 1257 (D.C. 2009) (reversing convictions on lesser offenses). He was also trial counsel for a defendant in an assault to commit murder case, in which he objected to the peremptory strikes of all black females from the venire under Batson v. Kentucky. See Robinson v. United States, 878 A.2d 1273 (D.C. 2005). A subsequent appeal led to a ruling of first impression reversing the conviction. See id.

Edelman entered private practice in 2005, working primarily on complex civil litigation. For example, Edelman represented a class of employees who had been forced to drop out of their company health plan due to a dramatic premium rise in a class action against their employer. See Fields v. Lyon Workspace Products et al., Case No. 1:07-cv-6894 (N.D. Ill.) (Lefkow, J.).

Judicial Experience

Since his confirmation in 2010, Edelman has served as a Judge on the D.C. Superior Court. He started his time in the court on the Civil docket, but has since served on the Domestic Violence and Criminal dockets as well.

Notably, while on the civil docket, Edelman presided over a contract dispute between the American Thoracic Society and the American Cancer Association, mediating the dispute to a settlement before trial. See American Thoracic Society v. American Cancer Association, 2009 CA 4543 (D.C. Super. Ct. Dec. 10, 2015). On the criminal side, he presided over the trial of a man alleged to be the “Petworth serial stabber”, which ended in the defendant’s acquittal of all charges. See United States v. Jones, 2013 CF3 10586 (D.C. Super. Ct. June 2, 2015).

Overall Assessment

In 2010, Todd Edelman was smoothly confirmed to the D.C. Superior Court. Subsequently, in 2016, his nomination to the federal bench stalled and remained unconfirmed. This time around, Edelman’s biggest enemy is the clock. With limited time on the Senate’s calendar before the end of the Congress, it remains unclear if Edelman’s nomination will receive a hearing in time. If he is not processed and control of the Senate flips in November, Edelman risks seeing a repeat of his 2016 nomination failure.

Justice Maria Araujo Kahn – Nominee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Maria Araujo Kahn has served the last sixteen years as a state judge, building a long judicial record that may be parsed for her appellate nomination.

Background

Born to a Portuguese family in Angola in 1964, Maria Araujo Kahn immigrated to the United States at age 10. Kahn graduated from New York University in 1986 and the Fordham University Law School in 1989. After graduating, Kahn clerked for Judge Peter Dorsey on the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

In 1993, Kahn joined the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities. She subsequently became an Assistant U.S. Attorney based in New Haven. In 2006, Republican Governor Jodi Rell appointed Kahn, a Democrat, to the New Haven County Superior Court.

In 2013, Kahn was recommended to President Obama for the federal district court in Connecticut, but another nominee, Jeffrey Mayer, was nominated and confirmed instead.

In 2017, Kahn was elevated to the Connecticut Appellate Court by Governor Dannel Malloy. Malloy subsequently appointed Kahn to the Connecticut Supreme Court, replacing Justice Carmen Espinosa. Kahn has served on the court since.

History of the Seat

Kahn has been nominated to replace Judge Jose Cabranes, who has announced his desire to take senior status upon the confirmation of a successor.

Legal Career

After her clerkship, between 1993 and 1997, Kahn worked for the Connecticut Office of Protection and Advocacy for Individuals with Disabilities, where she litigated in support of plaintiffs seeking medical and legal rights in health care litigation. For example, Kahn filed an amicus brief in support of a plaintiff seeking to stop the forcible administration of medication for his mental illness in non-emergency situations. See Doe v. Hunter, 667 A.2d 90 (Conn. Super. 1995).

Kahn subsequently became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Connecticut. In this role, Kahn worked alongside future federal judge Stephen Robinson and future federal judicial nominee Barbara Jongbloed to prosecute Dr. Oscar Perez Gomez for Medicare fraud. United States v. Gomez, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16068 (D. Conn. Aug. 29, 2003). She also prosecuted cases of mail and wire fraud. See, e.g., United States v. Clarke, 390 F. Supp. 2d 131 (D. Conn. 2005).

Jurisprudence

Kahn has served on all levels of the Connecticut judiciary: trial, appellate, and supreme. She has been appointed to these positions by Governors of both political parties.

Superior Court

Kahn joined the New Haven County Superior Court after her appointment by Rell in 2006. In that role, Kahn served as a trial judge hearing both civil and criminal cases. Early in her time on the bench, Kahn declined to overturn a Council decision to approve a Spring cell tower to be built in Litchfield. See Rosa v. Sitting State Council, 2007 Conn. Super. LEXIS 590 (2007).

On the criminal side, Kahn declined to suppress evidence arising from a traffic stop, finding that the officer had reasonable suspicion for the stop and that he did not unreasonably prolong the traffic stop. State v. Cronin, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2899 (2008). She also declined to dismiss a DUI charge where the police officer had videotaped the defendant while he was consulting with his attorney on whether to take a breathalyzer. State v. Abbate, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2494 (2011).

Court of Appeals

In 2017, Gov. Malloy elevated Kahn to the Connecticut Appellate Court. Kahn’s tenure on the Appellate Court was fairly short before her elevation.

Supreme Court

A few months after she was appointed to the Connecticut Appellate Court, Kahn was elevated to the Connecticut Supreme Court by Malloy. Kahn has served on the seven-member court since.

Among her key opinions on the Connecticut Supreme Court, Kahn wrote for the majority declining to fashion a Miranda-like prophylactic rule that would require the police to warn juveniles that their crimes may have adult consequences before questioning them. See Pat Eaton-Robb, Court Won’t Create Special Miranda Warning for Juveniles, A.P. State & Local, June 28, 2018.

In another ruling, Kahn wrote for a unanimous court in overturning Sen. Ernest Newton’s convictions for campaign fraud, ruling that the trial court had improperly instructed the jury on the level of intent needed for conviction. See Court Overturns Former Senator’s Campaign Fraud Convictions, A.P. State & Local, Oct. 12, 2018. In contrast, Kahn upheld a murder conviction resting solely on “cross-racial” eyewitness testimony, finding that defense attorneys had failed to meet their burden to show that no reasonable factfinder would have convicted. See Pat Eaton-Robb, Court Upholds Conviction Based on ID by Single Eyewitness, A.P. State & Local, Oct. 11, 2019.

In one notable case, Kahn concurred in the Connecticut Supreme Court’s ruling upholding a conviction for breach of the peace, finding that using the n-word in referring to an african american public servant constituted “fighting words” which were unprotected by the First Amendment. See State v. Liebenguth, 250 A.3d 1 (Conn. 2020). In her concurring opinion, Kahn described the fighting words doctrine, which allows the state to prohibit words likely to incite violence, as “dubious,” noting that it “leads to consideration of stereotypical propensities for violence when assessing an addressee’s likely response to the speaker’s words.” Id. (Kahn, J., concurring).

Writings and Statements

In 2019, Kahn joined fellow Supreme Court Justice Richard Robinson on a panel at Eastern Connecticut State University discussing implicit biases in the legal system. Connecticut Supreme Court Justices Discuss Implicit Biases, Targeted News Service, Apr. 9, 2019. In her remarks at the event, Kahn discusses “hidden biases” that people often don’t recognize. Kahn states:

“Example: When people see a Black person and say ‘I don’t see color,’ Oh yes you do! You take information about Black people already in your head, which rejects notions of you opening your mind more to being a more transparent human being.” See id. (quoting Hon. Maria Araujo Kahn).

Overall Assessment

Over her sixteen years on the Connecticut state bench, Kahn has built a relatively mainstream record, with few rulings that have drawn criticism or controversy. That, combined with her comparative lack of youth, should make Kahn a less controversial nominee. However, Kahn may, nonetheless, draw opposition based on her remarks on implicit bias. Additionally, Kahn also faces a limited senate calendar, making the prospects of an end-of-year confirmation more difficult than otherwise anticipated.

Lindsay Jenkins – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois

The Dirksen Courthouse - where the Northern District of Illinois sits.

Cooley Partner Lindsay Jenkins has spent the past fifteen years practicing in Northern Illinois and brings extensive experience with criminal law to the federal bench.

Background

Lindsay Carole Jenkins graduated from Miami University in 1998 and got a J.D. summa cum laude from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 2002.

After graduation, Jenkins clerked for Judge Solomon Oliver on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. She then joined Jones Day as an associate. Jenkins then became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois in 2006. In 2021, she became a Partner at Cooley LLP, where she currently serves.

History of the Seat

Jenkins has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. This seat opened on September 7, 2022, upon the elevation of Judge John Lee to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

Legal Career

Jenkins started her legal career at the Cleveland office of Jones Day. While there, Jenkins represented Tobias Valencia in a postconviction challenge to his conviction for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine. United States v. Valencia, 188 Fed. Appx. 395 (6th Cir. July 17, 2006). The Sixth Circuit denied relief for her client. See id. at 403.

From 2006 to 2021, Jenkins worked as a federal prosecutor. In that role, Jenkins represented the United States before the Northern District of Illinois in criminal prosecutions. See, e.g., United States v. Yihao Pu, 15 F. Supp. 3d 846 (N.D. Ill. 2014). She also represented the government on appeal. See, e.g., United States v. Serfling, 504 F.3d 672 (7th Cir. 2007).

Among the matters she argued before the Seventh Circuit, Jenkins successfully defended a federal law criminalizing enticing a minor to perform a sexual act against a constitutional challenge. See United States v. Cote, 504 F.3d 682 (7th Cir. 2007). She also defended the denial of postconviction relief to a defendant sentenced by a jury in which a juror was absent for a day of deliberation. See Webster v. United States, 667 F.3d 826 (7th Cir. 2011).

Overall Assessment

With extensive experience as a federal prosecutor and in private practice, Jenkins should have little trouble through the confirmation process.

Judge James Simmons – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has brought in four new judges since President Biden came to office. Biden is hoping to make it six with the nominations U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Schopler and San Diego County Superior Court Judge James Simmons.

Background

A Los Angeles native, James Edward Simmons Jr. received a B.A. from the University of California Berkeley in 2001 and a J.D. from the Golden Gate University School of Law in 2004. After a year in the San Diego City Attorney’s Office, Simmons worked as a state prosecutor in San Diego for eleven years.

In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Simmons to the San Diego County Superior Court. Simmons is currently a judge with the court.

History of the Seat

Simmons has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on March 31, 2021, by Judge Anthony Battaglia’s move to senior status.

Legal Experience

Other than a year at the City Attorney’s Office, Simmons spent his entire pre-bench career at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office as a state prosecutor. Among the matters he prosecuted there, Simmons handled the charges against Franklin Gatlin, who was charged with stabbing the victim three times at a sushi restaurant. See No Headline in Original, City News Service, Jan. 10, 2007. He also handled the case of Jerry McCluney, charged with shooting and beating his uncle. See Kelly Wheeler, Bail Stays at $1 Million For Man Accused of Shooting, Beating Uncle, City News Service, Apr. 29, 2008.

Notably, Simmons prosecuted Alexander “Piggy” Antunez for shooting and killing Valentin Madrigal. See Kelly Wheeler, Gang Member Who Fatally Shot Rival in 2005 Gets 17-Year Prison Sentence, City News Service, Sept. 1, 2010. Simmons also prosecuted Dontaye Craig, Frederick Robinson, and Rashad Scott for firing shots at rival gang members that struck and killed a bystander. See James R. Riffel, Two to Stand Trial for Killing of Bystander in Gaslamp, City News Service, Oct. 3, 2011. After a jury trial, all three defendants were convicted. See Kelly Wheeler, Gang Members Convicted in 2009 Death of Woman Celebrating 21st Birthday in Gaslamp, City News Service, Sept. 17, 2012.

Jurisprudence

Since 2017, Simmons has served as a judge on the San Diego Superior Court. In this role, he presides over trial court matters in criminal, civil, family, and other state law matters. Among his notable cases as a judge, Simmons sentenced John Dupree Johnson to six years in prison after driving while intoxicated in a manner that caused the death of a 70 year old pedestrian. See Man Sentenced to Six Years in Prison For Fallbrook DUI Freeway Fatality, City News Service, Nov. 5, 2020.

Overall Assessment

While still fairly young for a federal judicial appointment, Simmons has built up a record of legal service in the San Diego community and would likely attract little controversy in his confirmation.

Judge Andrew Schopler – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California has brought in four new judges since President Biden came to office. Biden is hoping to make it six with the nominations of state judge James Simmons and U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Schopler.

Background

Andrew George Schopler received his B.A. summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 1994. Schopler then received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1997 and spent a year as a solo practitioner and a public defender in Chapel Hill, North Carolina before joining Rudolf and Maher.

In 2004, Schopler became a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California. Schopler stayed with the office until his appointment in 2016 to become a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Southern District of California.

History of the Seat

Schopler has been nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, to a seat vacated on January 22, 2021, by Judge Larry Burns’ move to senior status.

Legal Experience

Schopler started his legal career in North Carolina, practicing criminal defense both as a public defender and in private practice taking court appointed cases. Among the cases he handled in North Carolina, Schopler successfully persuaded the North Carolina Court of Appeals to reverse Jimmy Harris’ conviction for First Degree Murder, finding that the trial court had erroneously allowed the state to cross-examine the defendant regarding a fifteen year old aggravated battery conviction. See State v. Harris, 562 S.E.2d 547 (N.C. App. 2002).

As a federal prosecutor in San Diego, Schopler prosecuted drug crimes. See, e.g., Hells Angel Gets Two-Decade Prison Term for Dealing Meth, City News Service, Dec. 3, 2012. Notably, he worked on Operation Dog Pound, a wiretapping investigation targeting methamphetamine and crack cocaine trafficking in San Diego. See Operation Dog Pound Defendant Sentenced to 20 Years in Prison, States News Service, Sept. 12, 2011. He also prosecuted public corruption cases. See, e.g., Mexican Businessman, Two Others, Convicted in Scheme to Funnel Money Into 2012 Mayoral Campaigns, City News Service, Sept. 9, 2016.

Schopler also had the opportunity to brief and argue appeals as a federal prosecutor. For example, Schopler successfully defended against motions to suppress in a border patrol agent search case at both the trial and appellate levels. Compare United States v. Reyes-Bosque, 463 F. Supp. 2d 1138 (S.D. Cal. 2006) with United States v. Reyes-Bosque, 596 F.3d 1017 (9th Cir. 2009). See also United States v. Navarro, 608 F.3d 529 (9th Cir. 2010) (affirming conviction for importing heroin and possession with intent to distribute).

Jurisprudence

Since 2016, Schopler has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on the Southern District of California. In this role, he presides over pretrial, trial, grand jury and discovery matters. Among the notable matters he has handled as a magistrate, Schopler recommended the denial of a habeas petition filed by California inmate Hussein Ibrahim, finding them to be untimely. See Ibrahim v. Fox, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16747 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 25, 2018). This report was adopted by Judge Roger Benitez, who stated that the report was “thoughtful and thorough.” See Ibrahim v. Fox, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27091, at *2 (S.D. Cal. Feb. 20, 2018).

In another case, Schopler declined to dismiss a prisoner’s civil rights claim for failure to exhaust, ruling that the allegation that a guard had threatened the plaintiff to get him to drop his administrative appeals was sufficient to excuse any failure to exhaust. See Mitchell v. Silva, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 129369 (S.D. Cal. July 21, 2020).

Political Activity

Schopler has a handful of political donations to his name, all to Democrats, including Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Overall Assessment

With twenty-five years of legal experience and six years on the bench, Schopler will likely be deemed as close to a consensus nominee as can be found this Congress. He will likely have a smooth confirmation, calendar permitting.

Justice Adrienne Nelson – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon

A trailblazer on the state bench, Justice Adrienne Nelson is poised to become the first African American woman on the Oregon federal bench.

Background

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, and raised in Arkansas, Nelson found her way into legal advocacy early, when her mother sued her school to permit Nelson to be the school’s valedictorian, instead of a white student with a lower GPA who was initially selected. See Eden Dawn, Meet Adrienne Nelson, the Second Black Female Judge in Oregon History, Portland Monthly, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/news-and-city-life/2017/09/meet-adrienne-nelson-the-second-black-female-judge-in-oregon-history. Nelson subsequently graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas in 1990 and got a J.D. from the University of Texas School of Law in 1993.

After graduation, Nelson moved to Portland, worked as a contract attorney and then as a public defender. After three years as a public defender, Nelson joined Bennett, Hardman, Morris & Kaplan LLP for five years and then joined Student Legal and Mediation Services.

In 2006, Governor Ted Kulongoski appointed Nelson to the Multnomah County Circuit Court. In 2018, Governor Kate Brown elevated Nelson to the Oregon Supreme Court, making her the first African American appellate judge in Oregon history. Nelson has served on the court since.

In 2011, while she was on the Multnomah County Circuit Court, Nelson was one of five candidates recommended by Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley to replace Judge Michael Hogan on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Wyden and Merkley Send Names of Five Finalists for Federal Judgeship to the White House, States News Service, Mar. 6, 2012. The Obama Administration chose one of Nelson’s Multnomah County colleagues, Judge Michael McShane, for nomination, and McShane was confirmed in 2013.

History of the Seat

Nelson has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. This seat opened on December 27, 2021, when Judge Michael Mosman moved to senior status.

Jurisprudence

Nelson served as a Circuit Court Judge from 2006 to 2018. In this role, she served as a primary trial judge, supervising criminal and civil cases. For example, Nelson acquitted Mary Jo Pullen-Hughes for the charge of phone harassment, finding that there was not enough evidence of her intent to harass. OR Woman Acquitted of Phone Harassment of Feds, A.P. State & Local Wire, Mar. 1, 2010. Some of Nelson’s rulings have been appealed to the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court. For example, the Oregon Supreme Court affirmed a ruling by Nelson precluding psychological testimony at trial after plaintiffs failed to deliver the reports prepared by their psychological expert during discovery. See A.G. v. Guitron, 268 P.3d 589 (Ore. 2011).

In contrast, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed Nelson’s denials of motions to suppress in a number of cases, finding, in one case, that Nelson erred in finding that the defendant had no constitutional privacy interest in actions in a public restroom. See State v. Holiday, 310 P.3d 1149 (Ore. App. 2013). See also State v. Adams, 185 P.3d 570 (Ore. App. 2008) (reversing conviction where officer unlawfully stopped defendant without reasonable suspicion); State v. Chambers, 203 P.3d 337 (Ore. App. 2008) (holding that an officer’s detention of defendant was not justified under the community caretaker exception to the Fourth Amendment).

Since 2018, Nelson has been a member of the Oregon Supreme Court, serving as the court’s first African American member. See Andrew Selsky, In a First, African-American Named to Oregon Supreme Court, A.P. State & Local, Jan. 3, 2018.

Writings and Statements

Nelson has frequently spoken on the law at various legal events and symposiums throughout the state, as well as discussing her own rise to the bench. See, e.g., Eden Dawn, Meet Adrienne Nelson, the Second Black Female Judge in Oregon History, Portland Monthly, Sept. 13, 2017, https://www.pdxmonthly.com/news-and-city-life/2017/09/meet-adrienne-nelson-the-second-black-female-judge-in-oregon-history. Nelson’s unique background has also drawn media attention, and Nelson has been speculated as a potential nominee for the Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit. Compare Andrew Kragie, Meet the Possible Nominees for Justice Breyer’s Seat, Law360, Jan. 26, 2022 with Andrew Kragie, Biden Gets 1st Opening on 9th Circ. Thanks to Judge Graber, Law360, Feb. 16, 2021.

Overall Assessment

After being considered as a potential nominee for both the Ninth Circuit and the Supreme Court, Judge Adrienne Nelson has now been tapped for the district court in Oregon. Based on her time in the Oregon legal community, it will be difficult to deny Nelson’s credentials for the position.

Matthew Garcia – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

The vacancy on the New Mexico District Court vacated by Judge Judith Herrera in 2019 is one of the longest pending judicial vacancies in the country. With the nomination of Matthew Garcia, the New Mexico district court is the closest it’s been in years to being fully staffed.

Background

Garcia received his B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1999, a M.P.P. from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in 2003, and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2005. Garcia spent a year as a Fulbright scholar in Finland before joining Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg in Albuquerque as an associate.

In 2009, Garcia became a Partner with Bach & Garcia. In 2012, he shifted to become a Partner with Garcia Ives Nowara. In 2018, he became general counsel for incoming Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico. In 2020, he came Lujan Grisham’s chief of staff.

History of the Seat

Garcia has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico vacated on July 1, 2019 by Judge Judith Herrera’s move to senior status. In May 2020, President Trump nominated Brenda Saiz to fill the vacancy. However, New Mexico’s Senators refused to return blue slips on Saiz due to the Trump Administration’s decision to push through a nominee to replace Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg upon her death. The Biden Administration then nominated Garcia.

Legal Career

Garcia started his legal career at the firm of Freedman Boyd Daniels Hollander Goldberg in Albuquerque. While at the firm, Garcia represented Auditor candidate Hector Balderas (currently New Mexico Attorney General) in a suit by the Republican Party by New Mexico blocking Balderas from replacing the previous Democratic party candidate on the ballot. See Johnson v. Vigil-Giron, 140 N.M. 667 (2006). Garcia also represented a water utility in a suit against the Dona Ana Mutual Domestic Water Consumers Association, which was dismissed based on municipal immunity. See Moongate Water Co. v. Dona Ana Mut. Consumers Ass’n, 145 N.M. 140 (2008).

In 2009, Garcia shifted to Bach & Garcia, where he worked on insurance litigation. See, e.g., Jordan v. Allstate Ins. Co., 149 N.M. 162 (2010).

In 2012, Garcia became a Partner at Garcia Ives Nowara. While at the firm, he represented the ACLU of New Mexico as amicus curiae in a suit against the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department. See Ramirez v. State ex rel. Children, Youth & Families Dep’t, 326 P.3d 474 (N.M. App. 2014). Garcia also argued before the New Mexico Supreme Court in seeking to maintain a Whistleblower Protection Act claim against Secretary of State Mary Herrera. See Flores v. Herrera, 384 P.3d 1070 (N.M. 2016).

After the election of New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Garcia joined her staff. In that role, he represented the Governor in inter-governmental litigation. See, e.g., State ex rel. Egolf v. N.M. Pub. Regulation Comm’n, 476 P.3d 896 (N.M. 2020). He also represented the Governor in successfully defending public health regulations governing the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. See Grisham v. Reeb, 480 P.3d 852 (N.M. 2020); see also Grisham v. Romero, 483 P.3d 545 (N.M. 2021).

Political Activity

Garcia has an extensive political history outside of his work for Lujan-Grisham. This includes multiple donations to President Barack Obama, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, and State Senator Eric Griego, all Democrats.

Overall Assessment

The 48-year-old Garcia brings both political connections and legal experience to the federal bench. While Garcia is likely to attract strong opposition due to his Democratic bona fides, it should nonetheless permit him to get confirmed by the end of the Congress.

Jorge Rodriguez – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York

New York Assistant Attorney General Jorge Rodriguez, would be, if confirmed, the first Hispanic judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. However, his nomination has been the source of an ugly battle regarding his duty station, and Rodriguez becomes the first Biden nomination from a blue state who is more likely than not to remain unconfirmed.

Background

Jorge Alberto Rodriguez got his Bachelor of Arts from the Vanderbilt University in 2000 and went on to earn his J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School in 2004. After law school, Rodriguez spent five years as an associate at Mahoney & Keane in New York City and then four years at Deily & Glastetter in Albany. In 2014, Rodriguez became an Assistant Attorney General in New York, where he currently works.

History of the Seat

Rodriguez has been nominated to a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York. This seat was to be vacated when Judge David Hurd takes senior status (he indicated that he will do so upon confirmation of a successor). However, Hurd expressed umbrage when Rodriguez was nominated, noting that he would only take senior status upon the appointment of a successor based in Utica (where Hurd sits). Hurd subsequently, after representatives for Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand indicated that Rodriguez was willing to move to Utica, unconditionally revoked his desire to take senior status.

Legal Experience

Rodriguez spent the first decade of his legal career in private practice, where he largely focused on corporate law. Among the matters he handled in this time, Rodriguez represented an attorney being sued for part of a share of legal fees by another attorney retained by the same client. See Gelband v. Matthews, 851 N.Y.S.2d 63 (Civil Ct. City of New York, New York Cnty, Sept. 26, 2007). He also represented shipping companies in an action brought against a dock side transportation company, which was dismissed for lack of federal jurisdiction. See Mediterranean Shipping Co. (USA) v. Rose, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 85615 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 23, 2008).

Rodriguez also handled appellate matters during his time in private practice. For example, Rodriguez sought to overturn a dismissal by the trial court for his action for breach of contract and for replevin (an equitable remedy that involves returning personal property wrongfully seized). See Americredit Fin. Servs., Inc. v. Decoteau, 103 A.3d 761 (N.Y. App. Div. 2013).

Since 2014, Rodriguez has worked as an Assistant Attorney General for the State of New York. In this capacity, Rodriguez worked on civil recoveries and participated as an interested party in the prosecution of Martin Shkreli, a former hedge fund manager who was convicted of securities fraud, and his co-defendant Evan Greebel. See United States v. Greebel, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 225669 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 13, 2017). See also United States v. Shkreli, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 230343 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 26, 2018).

More recently, Rodriguez has defended against lawsuits challenging Governor Kathy Hochul’s school mask mandates. See Robert Gavin, Biden Picks Clifton Park Litigator as Region’s Next Federal Judge, Times Union, July 13, 2022, ​​https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Biden-picks-Clifton-Park-litigator-for-AG-as-17303062.php.

Overall Assessment

With a career largely in commercial and civil litigation, Rodriguez would largely have avoided controversy in his confirmation. However, the controversy now rests on the seat he seeks to fill. With Hurd choosing to remain on the bench, it is unlikely that a vacancy still exists for Rodriguez to fill. Nonetheless, the White House has not withdrawn his nomination and the vacancy is still indicated on the U.S. Courts website (for now). Nonetheless, Rodriguez has little choice but to wait and hope that Hurd chooses to change his mind.

Jamar Walker – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

A federal prosecutor, Jamar Walker would be the first openly LGBTQ judge on the Virginia federal bench if confirmed, and would also, at 36, be one of the youngest.

Background

A native of the Eastern shore of Virginia, Jamar Kentrell Walker received his B.A. from the University of Virginia in 2008 and then got a J.D. from the University of Virginia Law School in 2011.

After graduation, Walker clerked for Judge Raymond Alvin Jackson on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia and then joined the firm of Covington & Burling as an associate. In 2015, Walker joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and has served there ever since.

History of the Seat

Walker has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. This seat opened on November 23, 2021, when his old-boss Judge Raymond Alvin jackson moved to senior status. Walker was recommended, along with state judge Kevin Duffan, by Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine to the White House on March 1, 2022. Walker was nominated on July 13, 2022.

Legal Experience

Walker started his legal career as an associate at Covington & Burling. At the firm, Walker was part of the legal team representing defense contractor Northrop Grumman in a suit arising from groundwater contamination from one of the contractor’s facilities. See Travelers Indem. Co. v. Northrop Grumman Corp., 999 F. Supp. 2d 552 (S.D.N.Y. 2014).

Since 2015, Walker has worked as a federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. In his time with the office, he was able to convince the Fourth Circuit to overturn a judge granted motion of acquittal in a wire fraud and money laundering case. See United States v. Millender, 970 F.3d 523 (4th Cir. 2020).

Walker’s focus in the office was largely on white collar and corruption prosecutions. For example, Walker prosecuted Robert Lee Foster, a former senate staffer, for defrauding three women in their 60s and 70s. See Former Senate Staffer Sentenced to 38 Months for Defrauding Three Women, States News Service, Oct. 30, 2015. Walker also prosecuted Thomas Scott Brown for perpetuating a bank fraud scheme resulting in $2.7 million in losses. See Atlanta Man Sentenced to Three Years for $2.7 Million Bank Fraud, Justice Department Documents and Publications, Sept. 15, 2017.

Notably, Walker secured a $137 million penalty against Walmart for violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. See Walmart Inc. and Brazil-Based Subsidiary Agree to Pay $137 Million to Resolve Foreign Corrupt Practices Act Case, Legal Monitor Worldwide, June 29, 2019. He also secured a jury verdict against Anthony Eric Mitchell for his role in a fraudulent scheme that caused losses of $1.6 million. Va. U.S. Attorney: Jury Convicts Businessman of $1.4 Million Fraud Conspiracy, Targeted News Service, Oct. 18, 2019.

Overall Assessment

Walker’s nomination to the federal bench is both historic (for his status as the first openly LGBTQ nominee to the federal bench in Virginia) and conventional (for his background as a federal prosecutor). Nonetheless, if opposition galvanizes to Walker’s nomination, it will likely be based on his youth. However, setting that aside, there is little in Walker’s background that is likely to imperil his confirmation.